There would be no deal Thursday to save dozens of emergency shelter spots for homeless men and women in the city of Miami.
But a heated dispute over how to best serve the homeless population on the streets of downtown lost its fire with an apology from the leader of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust to a Miami commissioner. And the fear of dozens being put out on the street Aug. 1 ended with an assurance to clients of the Camillus House mat program that, regardless of whether an agreement comes together Friday to fund shelter beds, no one will be put out.
“There’s a lot of rumors, but what they told us tonight is they’re not going to throw people out,” Carl Porg, a Camillus House client, said Thursday while sitting in the shelter’s courtyard.
Over the last year, that same courtyard has been home at night to as many as 115 men and women who, without available shelter beds, sleep on mats beneath a pavilion. The program has been funded mostly by the city of Miami, and reserved strictly for homeless within city limits referred by outreach workers and Miami police.
But money for the roughly $700,000 program ends Friday, and a standoff between the city and the Homeless Trust over who should fund the program — and whether it’s counterproductive — has gotten in the way of negotiations to find a compromise. One roadblock came in a somewhat personal dispute between Trust Chairman and lobbyist Ron Book, and Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. But the two powerful politicos seemed to quash their battles Thursday.
“I’m sorry for it getting the way it’s gotten,” Book told Sarnoff after an emergency meeting of the Trust’s board, called to try to ink an 11th-hour memorandum of understanding.
Less than one week ago, Book referred to Sarnoff’s handling of the dispute — which included suggestions of improper management of public money for homeless aid — as “despicable.” But Book apologized during a hushed conversation.
“This got to a very ugly place and I’m sorry,” Book said.
Less successful, however, was a push to finalize a deal among the Trust, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County. The three sides have spent most of the last week hashing out a compromise that, while ending the mats, would replace them with 150 shelter beds, half of them funded by the city. The beds would be in Camillus House.
In addition, the Trust is planning to set aside 91 new apartments for the homeless residing in an area of downtown that it’s planning to aggressively target. Funding for the beds and apartments would begin Oct. 1.
The Trust also has agreed to transition the 73 clients remaining in the mat program into the county’s homeless “continuum of care.” That would happen immediately.
However, sticking points still remain. These include differences over whether 75 beds to be funded by the Trust would be allocated for Miami residents, and whether the city would have to pay penalties if it violates the agreement. But an agreement seems possible, and Book called for another meeting at 3 p.m. Friday.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said that the deal being discussed is better than nothing, but it isn’t a “game-changer” for downtown.
“I appreciate the 75” beds, he told Book. “I’m just saying to you that the people of Miami shouldn’t have expectations.”