“I observed a Coral Gables police car letting out a person who was very clearly homeless,” said Solowsky, who works in Sarnoff’s law firm and serves as a pro bono attorney for the DDA. “I’ve seen similar situations, but I didn’t take note of which municipality was involved.”
Coral Gables police, however, deny the claim.
“It’s neither our policy nor our practice to relocate homeless people to other jurisdictions,” said Officer Dean Wellinghoff, a department spokesman. “Typically, we’ll get calls regarding a homeless person blocking the entrance to a business. We’ll just ask that person to move on.”
Aventura Police spokesman Sgt. Chris Goranitis denied similar allegations directed at his department.
“This is completely false and not practical,” Goranitis told the Miami Herald. “There would be absolutely no reason to travel several miles to the city of Miami when there is a homeless shelter minutes from our city located at 1203 N. Federal Hwy. in Hollywood.”
Both departments, as well as the Surfside Police Department, say they have a relatively small homeless population. Outside of Miami city limits, only 124 people live on the streets north of Kendall Drive, according to the latest census from the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust. Another 66 live south of Kendall Drive.
The second largest concentration of unsheltered homeless people is on Miami Beach: 138 as of the Homeless Trust’s January count.
Beach police spokesman Sgt. Bobby Hernandez said his department may have brought people across the causeway to Miami two decades ago, but doesn’t do that now. The department follows the same rules that Miami does, he said, even though there is no court order requiring the Beach to give wide berth to homeless people. And an officer is on the city’s homeless outreach team, along with several social services professionals.
“We are not dumping anyone in downtown Miami,” Hernandez said. “That’s just not true. What we have done is designate an officer to locate, identify and assist every single homeless person that we have in Miami Beach.”
Last week, Llamoca found a woman named Jennifer sprawled out on a green bath towel by the corner of 10th Street and Ocean Drive. Jennifer refused to go to a shelter that night, saying she preferred to sleep outdoors. But she promised to visit the homeless outreach team office the next morning.
Llamoca knelt on the ground and looked Jennifer in the eye. “I’m not going to give up on you,” he said.
Two blocks north, Llamoca struck up a conversation with Shawn Patrick Collins.
Collins, who has been homeless “on and off” for 15 years, said Hollywood officers had once dropped him off at the county line instead of arresting him. But he had never heard of Miami Beach police doing anything like that, he said.
Some police departments like Miami Beach do bring people to homeless shelters in Miami city limits. Beach police officers brought 20 people to Camillus House in 2011, according to data collected by the shelter. The Aventura, Miami Shores and Hialeah police departments brought four, six and 15 people, respectively.
Fernandez, the executive director of the Homeless Trust, said homeless people also wind up downtown because of the indigent healthcare services offered at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
What’s more, Miami-Dade corrections officials used to release all inmates from the downtown jail at 1321 NW 13th St. As of last month, however, most releases are being done at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, 7000 NW 41st St.
County leaders have spent several years working to combat what they call “institutional homelessness.” In 2008, a dozen healthcare, corrections and social service agencies signed an agreement with the Homeless Trust to help the homeless being discharged from their facilities. That agreement will likely be renewed this year.
“We don’t want institutions creating homelessness,” Fernandez said.
But Sarnoff says that isn’t enough, and is pushing for dramatic changes, including revisions to the Pottinger agreement. He would like to give Miami police the power to arrest homeless people for some minor offenses, including possibly for repeatedly refusing help.
Those changes, Sarnoff hopes, would discourage both the alleged dumping by other departments and institutional homelessness.
“We’re on a hamster wheel,” he said. “At some point, the streets [of Miami] can no longer be an option.”