THE HOMELESS

A new day for downtown Miami

 
 
SARNOFF
SARNOFF

marcsarnoff.com

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.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

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    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

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    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

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    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

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