Miami is suing to secure about $100,000 in county funds to provide mats for homeless people sleeping outside of a city shelter, tossing an already bitter political topic into the legal arena.
The suit filed last week in Miami-Dade Circuit Court takes issue with the Miami-Dade County homeless board ranking the city’s mat program last out of seven applications for a $7.5 million pot of money, which resulted in no earmark for the effort at Miami’s Camillus House.
Camillus receives millions in county funds for its homeless program, but the county’s Homeless Trust board has refused to support the use of mats as alternative shelter if no beds are available.
Advocates see the mat as a sensible way to move homeless people off the streets and within the Camillus umbrella, where they can take advantage of social services, showers and meals. Trust leaders argue the outdoor mats are so close to a life on the street that they only encourage some of the city’s hardest cases to resist the help and stability that come with a shelter bed.
“At the end of the day, it makes it more difficult to persuade the chronic population to accept our services and go into permanent housing,” Ron Book, the powerful lobbyist who is also the trust’s longtime volunteer chairman, said Monday.
The suit asks a judge to give the city the $102,000 in county money, which comes from a restaurant tax used to fund homeless programs across Miami-Dade. The money at issue represents a tiny portion of the more than $5 million that Camillus receives from the county board.
Out of the $7.5 million allocation recently approved for shelters that’s at issue in the suit, Camillus was approved for about $1.1 million, according to a summary by the Homeless Trust.
The mat program, along with a portable-toilet program the board refused to fund, has created a rift between Miami leaders and the appointed board that oversees the county’s homeless dollars.
Advocates for the mat program, led by Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, see the outdoor bedding as a logical alternative for a county that can’t afford shelter for all homeless residents — particularly in downtown Miami, which has the largest homeless population of any city in the county.
Representatives of the city, county and Camillus House were not available for comment Monday.