A federal judge on Wednesday granted the city of Miami a hearing to prove it needs to modify a 15-year-old agreement that gave the homeless a handful of life-sustaining rights not afforded most others, like lighting fires in parks, public nudity, and sleeping on sidewalks.
The city asked the U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno in September to consider modifying the so-called Pottinger settlement because of significant changes to downtown Miami since 1998, including the construction of 20,000 new condos, the opening of more than 200 retail stores and restaurants, new cultural venues, and a population that has swelled from 39,000 to the current 65,000.
During an Oct. 23 hearing before Moreno, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union – which negotiated the Pottinger settlement with Miami in 1998 — argued the changes haven’t been significant enough to warrant an evidentiary hearing in which the city would try to prove its case. The attorneys acknowledged some of the changes to downtown, but argued that those changes don’t make living there any easier for the 500 or so homeless who still live there.
In his ruling Wednesday, Moreno cited a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case involving the Suffolk County Jail in Massachusetts that set parameters for how a consent decree such as the Pottinger settlement can be modified.
“Modification of a consent decree may be warranted when changed factual conditions make compliance with the decree substantially more onerous,” the Supreme Court wrote.
The Pottinger settlement came a decade after three homeless men, Michael Pottinger, Peter Carter, and Berry Young, filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing the city’s growing homeless population was being harassed by police, who were arresting them in disproportionate numbers for conducting life-sustaining activities.
Moreno on Wednesday told the sides to list their exhibits and witnesses by the Nov. 26, and to expect a hearing in December.