Ron Book, chairman of Miami-Dade County’s Homeless Trust, which funds $52 million a year in housing and services for the homeless, said the city is moving ahead on the petition with no support from advocates for the homeless. He said arresting chronically homeless people does nothing to get them permanently off the streets.
“I don’t know what good it does putting those people in jail,’’ Book said. “I don’t think it’s wise, and I’ve told them that clearly and repeatedly.’’
Benjamin Waxman, an attorney who litigated the Pottinger case for the ACLU, said the city appears to be re-starting the sweeps and harassment of the homeless that gave rise to the lawsuit in the first place.
“They’re trying to reinstate the campaign against the homeless that inspired Pottinger,” he said in an interview.
But Commissioner Francis Suarez said the city doesn’t not want to simply round up the homeless.
“What this does is gives us a greater ability to take care of them,” he said.
The city petition would ask a federal judge to alter the guidelines in the settlement.
Among the changes sought:
• Allowing police to detain those chronically homeless if they refuse help three times in 180 days.
• Changing the definition of “life sustaining’’ activities to exclude fires in parks, obstructing sidewalks, littering, temporary obstructions in parks, and lewd misconduct, which can include urinating in public.
• Allowing police to seize and destroy property left in public spaces.
Police said a terrorist could plant an explosive device in a homeless person’s backpack.
“Under Pottinger now, if it looks like it belongs to the homeless, we can’t touch it. It could be a bomb,” said Miami police officer James Burnett.
To win modification of the Pottinger agreement, Assistant City Attorney Warren Bittner said, the city “must show a substantial change in circumstances.” Solowsky, the DDA’s pro bono counsel, said the plan is to file a petition in federal court, then meet with the ACLU and other parties to the settlement to hammer a new agreement.
Waxman said that will prove a hard sell.
“It was a hard-fought and carefully fashioned settlement,” he said.