The Miami City Commission is supporting a proposed ordinance to make “camping” or living outdoors a punishable offense.
This proposed ordinance, together with the new anti-urination/defecation ordinance, indicates that the city intends to act contrary to the Pottinger Agreement, an agreement that prevents the police from arresting homeless people for committing certain life-sustaining activities unless the person refuses available shelter.
Urination and defecation are expressly protected under the Pottinger Agreement and “camping” should also be protected by the spirit of the agreement, as the act of living outdoors is life-sustaining, particularly when there is nowhere else to go.
Despite strong efforts by the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, if you become homeless in Miami, it takes at least 30 days to get into a shelter. While the police may offer individuals a mat at Camillus House, these mats are not a long-term alternative to a shelter bed.
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Moreover, with only 100 mats, there are still not enough to accommodate more than 600 homeless individuals.
As a result of the long waiting period for shelter and the low capacity of the mat program, many of Miami’s homeless people have no choice but to sleep outdoors frequently in a tent as a last-resort shelter.
Understandably, the city is responding to pressure from businesses and residents to address the impact of homelessness on city streets and businesses. The city anticipates that these ordinances will help officers place homeless individuals into care. However, the ordinances fall short of addressing homelessness effectively.
Rather than enacting cost-inefficient criminalization laws, Miami should pursue effective solutions to ending homelessness, such as policies that expand the “Housing First” national model, increase affordable housing opportunities for the extremely low-income, and support funding for shelter beds and services. The Lazarus Project, a partnership between the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, City of Miami Homeless Outreach Team and Camillus Health Concern to provide psychotropic medications to homeless individuals on the street to effectively engage these individuals into care should also be supported.
Further, the language in the proposed anti-camping ordinance should be amended to ensure its compliance with the Pottinger Agreement by including language that requires police to offer these individuals shelter. The commission can also ensure proposed measures are more effective by involving advocates in the early drafting of these ordinances. By working together we can develop informed and effective policies that can be implemented to address homelessness in Miami.
The City Commission will consider the proposed anti-camping ordinance at its meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday at City Hall, 3500 Pan American Dr. Join us in providing meaningful public comment on this important issue.
Barbara “Bobbie” Ibarra,
Miami Coalition for the Homeless, Miami