A solution for those sleeping on Miami’s streets

Aphrosodia Kanawakee, 61, finds shelter from the rain under the  overhang of a local downtown restaurant while watching a passer-by.
Aphrosodia Kanawakee, 61, finds shelter from the rain under the overhang of a local downtown restaurant while watching a passer-by.

The leadership of the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County has joined under a common goal: to ensure that no one has to sleep on the streets of our community.

Last week, we proudly stood alongside Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and volunteer business, civic and community leaders — as well as philanthropic organizations — in spearheading the implementation of a new plan, which will assist the chronically homeless population in our community.

Much has improved in two decades, yet our work remains unfinished. At one time, an estimated 8,000 women, men and children slept on our streets and underpasses. Today, that number is around 800. It should be zero!

And that population includes many chronic homeless who turn down help — people with drug addiction or severe mental illness — and convicted sexual predators released from jail onto the streets.

We have a moral obligation to do all in our power to help . . . and we will.

It is difficult to calculate how much is spent in our community every year to help the homeless. Proceeds from the one-cent food and beverage tax, federal and state programs, grants from private foundations and individual fundraising by more than two dozen organizations add up to at least $140 million a year, and possibly much more. Yet we still have 800 people on the streets, nearly half of them live on downtown streets, where their number has actually increased by more than 80 percent in recent years.

Already, we have been hard at work — the city of Miami and the Homeless Trust allocated funds for approximately 100 more beds in Miami-Dade. Yet another 350 beds are still needed to serve the remaining homeless downtown.

Fortunately, a comprehensive solution is achievable, with only a small fraction of what we already spend — about $3 million. And the money is there. The Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, funded in part by the food and beverage tax, has a $13 million budget surplus.

Business, civic, and community leaders have asked the Trust to make that funding available. Agencies, such as Camillus House, have space for those beds, but not enough funding to fully serve those in need.

Leadership in the judiciary, community agencies and business community are rallying in support of this mission.

Miami-Dade Judge Steven Leifman is a passionate and effective advocate for finding help for homeless people with mental illness, creating pioneering programs on their behalf to shield them from the chronic cycle of arrest, jail and parole.

The Miami Downtown Development Authority and business leaders are also supporting this effort.

The city has asked a federal judge to update and approve modifications to the so-called Pottinger Settlement Agreement from 15 years ago, which prevents city of Miami authorities from enforcing laws banning public nudity, defecating on sidewalks, starting fires and other actions that would get any other citizen arrested.

Then there is the Catch-22 on homeless sexual predators. Pottinger protects their special rights as homeless. Yet, these people cannot be placed in shelters, which prohibit sexual predators. Authorities in Miami are powerless to take any action.

Changes are needed to provide safe, secure shelter and permanent housing for the homeless on our streets, to make meaningful help available for the mentally ill and to act as a society in a humane, compassionate way for all of our citizens.

The words of former Herald publisher and homeless activist Alvah H. Chapman, Jr. are truer today than ever — “Great success has been attained thus far. God’s been kind to us and prayers have been answered, but this job isn’t done yet.”

Our plan — more overnight beds at shelters and updating the 15-year old court imposed guidelines to meet changing circumstances — will complete the job.

Tomás P. Regalado is mayor of Miami, and Marc D. Sarnoff is chairman of the Miami City Commission.

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