Miami Beach: Concerns, but little proof, of Key West vagrant influx

There have been concerns — but apparently little proof — that homeless from the city of Key West are receiving one-way tickets to resume life on the streets in South Beach.

Starting about a month ago, police say they began noticing groupings of homeless who when approached said they previously lived in Key West.

And then the arrests began, according to police.

“We are arresting vagrants from the City of Key West almost every single day within the City,” Capt. Mark Causey, who oversees South Beach, wrote Aug. 9 in an interdepartmental email. “When making these arrests, please attempt to ascertain the name and or the city department that purchased them bus tickets to our jurisdiction.”

About one week after Causey sent his email, a Flamingo Park homeowner called The Miami Herald and said her home had been burglarized. When she reported the crime, the officer who arrived to file a report said there was a question about whether homeless from Key West were being dropped off in Lummus Park and then were breaking into homes, she said.

But despite the apparent concerns, city officials say only one homeless person arrested since mid-July definitively lived in Key West, and there is no evidence that government or homeless assistance agencies from the Florida Keys are sending their homeless to Miami Beach.

“We have not been able to accurately determine the means through which the persons are traveling to Miami Beach,” city and police officials wrote Tuesday in an email to the Herald.

Free one-way bus tickets for the homeless are nothing new.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties provide free tickets, as does the city of Fort Lauderdale, to homeless seeking to relocate with friends and family.

Homeless advocates say the tickets are worthwhile if travelers have a place to stay and a support system in their destination.

But the concerns raised by the police department focused on whether homeless from Monroe County were receiving cheap bus tickets to Miami Beach without guaranteed housing or a support system.

That’s what happened eight years ago, when three Key West mothers and their infant children were sent to Miami without a place to stay and Miami-Dade’s publicly funded Homeless Trust responded angrily with a cease-and-desist letter directed at a Keys-based outreach group.

The Miami Beach Commission also passed an “expression of sentiment” to the city of Key West that labeled organizations that place homeless people on buses and send them to Miami as “irresponsible.”

But Hilda Fernandez, Homeless Trust executive director and until recently a Miami Beach assistant city manager, said she has heard no proof that is happening again.

And Miami Beach officials said the Southernmost Homeless Assistance league, a coalition that provides a network of service providers to the homeless in Monroe County, denied providing transportation out of the Florida Keys.

“They have also informed us that they are not aware of any other agency providing such assistance,” city officials wrote in an email.

Officials also said there are no heightened concerns about crime related to an influx of homeless persons, and Causey’s email doesn’t mention break-ins.

As for the one homeless man from Key West who was arrested, he was picked up in Lummus Park on Aug. 11, according to the city.

He said he paid for his own $12 bus ticket.