Tasked with marketing Miami to tourists and investors, the tax-funded Downtown Development Authority has plenty of maps highlighting restaurants, tourist attractions and real estate development.
On Thursday, they unveiled their latest: a detailed map showing where people popped a squat on downtown streets.
The scatological atlas, smiling poop emojis and all, was created amid a swirling dispute between downtown boosters and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust over how to get homeless men and women off the street, and how to deal with corresponding sanitation issues. The two public agencies have been feuding for about a year now, dating back to the creation of a temporary shelter program at Camillus House, and more recently with the DDA’s promotion of souped-up porta-potties.
Long-time Homeless Trust Chairman Ron Book balks at both as ill-conceived initiatives already studied and rejected by the Trust, which focuses primarily on providing housing for the homeless. In response, he has been criticized as a “dictator” blind to downtown issues, who is flushing millions down the drain.
As part of an effort to shame Book and urge the Trust to reconsider, the DDA spent eight hours Friday documenting urine and feces, and then released its map, where the agency says feces was spotted during a sanitation worker’s eight-hour Friday shift.
Now, there’s little hope of wiping the slate clean.
“As the chief advocate for downtown Miami's growing base of residents, businesses and visitors from around the world, the Miami DDA has been making the case that homelessness is having a disproportionate impact on our urban core for years, and yet The Homeless Trust has resorted to passing the buck and ignoring the problem,” executive director Alyce Robertson said Thursday in a statement.
The creation of the map was also timed with a Miami Commission vote Thursday to urge county commissioners — who approve the Trust’s budget — to push the Trust to fund the Camillus House shelter program, which refers homeless to mats beneath an outside pavilion but also includes medical and counseling services. Later Thursday, Miami-Dade commissioners on an economic prosperity committee directed Book to study new programs and get back to them.
Afterward, a furious Book said he may step down.
“I'm sick of the personal attacks. Let someone else chair the thing,” Book, a top lobbyist in Miami-Dade and statewide, said.
But Book quickly backtracked, saying later that he was caught at a bad moment. He doubled-down on his criticism of the DDA and Camillus House, and said he’d quit before wasting money on programs without results. He said criticisms of the trust’s spending are political, noting that on Friday the Trust’s board agreed to spend $8 million to create 1,000 new shelter beds.
“There are people who have political motives and their own selfish business motives for wanting to promote certain things we’ve otherwise found not to work,” he said. “They choose to ignore the facts.”
Still, while the Trust has reduced homeless over time to about 4,000 in Miami, there remain about 1,000 on the streets, with some 600 living in Miami boundaries. And while Book has dug in his heels, so too have Miami officials. James Bernat, the city’s police coordinator, staunchly defends the program, and Commissioner and DDA Chairman Marc Sarnoff is one of Camillus House’s biggest boosters and fundraisers.
“Where do 600 people go to the bathroom everyday? Well there’s a map to show you where 600 people go to the bathroom everyday,” said Sarnoff, who displayed the DDA’s map on television. “This is a countywide issue, as you’ll see.”