Miami Commission approves plan to add 15 beds at homeless shelters


In other business, Miami commissioners also:

• Voted to extend Flagstone Property Group’s lease on Watson Island through June 2014, and increase its rent from $62,500 monthly to $1 million annually. Flagstone has been working to develop the waterfront property since 2001, though the mega-yacht marina project has stalled several times.

• Voted to strengthen municipal control and oversight over assisted living facilities and group homes. Under the new legislation, city inspectors will visit new assisted living facilities to verify the information provided on their applications, and make annual visits thereafter.

Commissioner Frank Carollo proposed the measure after the Miami Herald detailed abuse and neglect in the state’s assisted living facilities.

• Approved three projects to be funded by federal Community Development Block Grants: $5,000 for emergency utility assistance for residents of Commission District 3; $30,000 for the Martin Luther King Jr. Business Center, and $130,000 for economic development projects through the Latin Chamber of Commerce of the United States.

Undeterred by mounting political pressure, the Miami City Commission Thursday voted 4-1 to fund 15 new beds at homeless shelters.

The vote was meant to nudge the county’s Homeless Trust to pay for an additional 85 shelter beds. Miami officials made their investment contingent on the Homeless Trust agreeing to do so. But Homeless Trust Chairman Ron Book and executive director Hilda Fernandez have so far refused, saying they would rather spend money on more comprehensive case-management services for the homeless.

Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff acknowledged that the Homeless Trust officials were unlikely to change their minds.

Sarnoff said the beds are needed to help get about 350 homeless people off downtown Miami’s streets. Under a landmark 1997 legal settlement, Miami police officers cannot arrest homeless people for minor offenses without first offering them an available bed in a shelter. And most shelters are at capacity.

Sarnoff said he has the approval of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was out of the country Thursday.

Gimenez “wants the city to approve this so he can put pressure on the trust to fund their portion of the shelter beds,” Sarnoff said.

On the commission dais, Commissioner Frank Carollo offered reluctant support.

“I really don’t see the harm in setting aside the beds, at least for the next two years, and then tackling chronic homelessness on a larger scale,” Carollo said. “But I really wish we had consensus.”

Only Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones voted against the item, saying she had lingering concerns about the way the $240,000 for the 15 beds would be doled out. The original proposal specified that the new beds would be located at Camillus House. But Sarnoff changed the item on the dais so that all local homeless shelters could bid on the contract.

Spence-Jones was also uneasy about the political fight.

“You are going to have two people on two different sides of the issue girding for battle,” she said. “There has to be another way to address this.”

After the vote, the Homeless Trust’s Fernandez sent an email to City Manager Johnny Martinez and the commission, saying neither she nor Book had been made aware of the measure or invited to attend Thursday’s meeting.

“We always welcome the opportunity to provide input, especially on a matter of so much interest to the city,” Fernandez wrote. “As you know, we have attended the last two commission meetings where discussion regarding homelessness has occurred. Unfortunately, we cannot do so if we receive no prior notice.”

Fernandez has said Thursday’s vote is unlikely to affect how the Homeless Trust board spends its $52 million budget. The executive committee meets June 25.

Representatives from the city, county and Homeless Trust will meet Monday to try to find early consensus.

Sarnoff has also promoted changing the legal settlement, known as Pottinger vs. Miami. Among his ideas: allowing police officers to detain homeless people who refuse help three times in 180 days, regardless of whether there is shelter space.

The ACLU, which represented Michael Pottinger and several other homeless people in the original case, would have to sign off on any of the proposed changes.

In other business, the commission delayed a vote on whether to ban security shutters from the downtown Miami and Coconut Grove business districts.

Sarnoff had said two semi-autonomous agencies, the Downtown Development Authority and the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, would help businesses with the costs of removing and replacing the shutters. But earlier this week, DDA board member Jose Goyanes told the Miami Herald that the agency might not have enough money to help businesses citywide.

Additionally, many retailers and restaurateurs said they preferred the protection provided by metal shutters.

Sarnoff promised two meetings with the business community before the end of July.

“We’re going to explain to everyone where all the money would be available,” he said.

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