With the hopeful approval of the Miami City Commission and that of a federal judge, a new day will dawn in Miami soon. Homeless persons in Miami will have more opportunities for shelter, dignity and reintegration into society, while residents, workers and visitors to our city will be able to carry on without some of the concerns they face all too often in their encounters with the homeless.
The city and the American Civil Liberties Union have presented to U.S. District Court Chief Judge Federico Moreno a modification to the landmark Pottinger case that will allow the city of Miami to enforce laws concerning homeless people who had previously been granted special protection for “life sustaining” activities, while continuing to afford the homeless protection without fear of arrest.
One misunderstood point of much controversy must be highlighted: There is no move to “criminalize” homelessness in Miami. Those protections will remain in place.
The city and the ACLU also agree that now it is up to the Homeless Trust to step up to the plate and fulfill its mission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: End chronic homelessness by 2015. Doing that will require funding. The city and the trust have allocated money for additional shelter beds in 2014. I have called on the Trust to allocate a portion of its excess funding for more beds, which would prove invaluable.
This agreement will make downtown Miami a more viable place for residents, workers and visitors while continuing to protect the rights of the homeless.
It also expands the definition of available shelters for the homeless, and that part alone will help numerous homeless persons get into shelters, into the continuum of care and back as full members of society.
The agreement must still be ratified by the City Commission and then approved by Judge Moreno, who has set a hearing for February 28.
The modifications include:
• Homeless people registered as sex offenders or sexual predators will not have special protections;
• A homeless person may be arrested for public nudity if it is done intentionally and in plain view of others;
• Public nudity for a “call of nature” won’t be allowed if there is a public restroom within one-quarter mile;
• No fires will be allowed on public land, including parks;
• No temporary structures will be allowed on public land, including parks;
• Blocking pedestrian passage by lying across a sidewalk is not allowed, after one warning;
• No littering allowed within 300 feet of a trash receptacle;
• If the “life-sustaining” activities cause imminent threat of physical injury, police may arrest the person if he or she is warned and refuses to stop.
• The definition of an “available shelter” for the homeless is expanded to include mats of at least three inches, in addition to beds;
• Shelters outside of the City of Miami borders may be included, if the homeless person agrees to such a shelter. Now, only shelters within a one-mile radius of the city may be used.
The homeless population in Miami-Dade County has decreased by 90 percent since the Pottinger agreement was reached in 1998. Simultaneously, downtown Miami has blossomed into a more vibrant city with thousands of new apartments and residents, new restaurants, stores and nightlife.
This agreement will benefit all residents of Miami.
Marc Sarnoff is chairman of the Miami City Commission and of the Miami Downtown Development Authority.