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Homeless sex offenders lose court fight to keep Hialeah tent camp. Where to next?

The scene from a tent encampment of registered sex offenders outside of Hialeah in August 2017. Nine moths later, it remains. But Miami-Dade says it is ready to dismantle the village, and a judge has sided with the county.
The scene from a tent encampment of registered sex offenders outside of Hialeah in August 2017. Nine moths later, it remains. But Miami-Dade says it is ready to dismantle the village, and a judge has sided with the county. emichot@miamiherald.com

A Miami-Dade judge on Thursday cleared the way for the county to dismantle a tent village of homeless sex offenders outside Hialeah, and a lawyer for some of the residents said the ruling leaves them no choice but to live on a roadside or street somewhere else.

"They'll most likely be relocating to another street corner," Legal Services lawyer Jeffrey Hearne said after the hearing before Judge Pedro Echarte Jr. in Circuit Court. "New encampments will pop up. And this cycle will continue."

Kendall residents have already been picketing over another potential offender camp where Krome Avenue meets Kendall Drive at the western edge of the county. Miami-Dade's rules bar sex offenders from living with 2,500 feet of a school, a restriction that's far stricter than the 1,000-foot radius required by Florida law. Hearne said that the Krome camp has already been subject to a drive-by splattering from a paint gun.

"The vigilantism is a real concern," he said.

A lawyer for the county said Thursday that Miami-Dade has tried to find apartments for the nearly 100 tent dwellers in the encampment, and that many have left in recent months. But with Miami-Dade now ready to enforce a new law that gives police the ability to arrest sex offenders for sleeping on county property, the tents on a county-maintained roadside off Northwest 71st Street will no longer be a viable refuge, both sides said.

"We sent buses to the area. We tried to sign up people for housing assistance. ... We also had mobile workstations there to help them find addresses in compliance with the 2,500-foot rule," said Michael Valdes, the assistant Miami-Dade attorney handling the case. "There's only so much the county can do for individuals who aren't working with the county officials trying to help them."

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Patrick Wiese, convicted of lewd conduct toward a minor, leans on the plywood trailer he was building at the encampment of sex offenders outside Hialeah. Miami-Dade is promising to dismantle the camp after a judge tosssed a lawsuit trying to block enforcement of the county's anti-camping rule. DOUGLAS HANKS dhanks@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade does not allow registered sex offenders to enter homeless shelters, but does assist with rent subsidies for apartments that comply with the 2,500-foot rule.

Miami-Dade also paid to bring in portable bathrooms and hand-washing stations at the Hialeah camp to address state warnings about potential health problems there. Valdes said large groups of homeless people in tents can cause the issues with public health, but suggested the tent residents could relocate in much smaller numbers. The county, he said, has not tried to bar them from living on the streets.

"If they have to be homeless, if they're on the street, there's no evidence the county has threatened them in any way with arrest," Valdes said. "The issue that we have is ... the erection of the tent structures on a semi-permanent basis."

Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union sued to block Miami-Dade from enforcing its new anti-camping legislation targeting the tent city, citing a technicality involving whether an actual building had to be on the land for the ordinance to apply. The suit also claimed the tent residents had a right to stay in the tent city, since Miami-Dade's overly strict rules on people with sex-offense convictions had left them with no legal, humane options.

Echarte rejected the legal arguments, saying the four anonymous tent residents who filed the suit had no case to make against Miami-Dade.

But the judge condemned the "deplorable" conditions facing the plaintiffs.

"Conditions so bad that most of us would not want our family pets living there," Echarte said. "Sadly neither the outcome of this motion, nor this case, will correct this serious societal problem. That has to come from the executive and legislative branch."

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