By Andrew Fraieli
On October 28, Miami commissioners voted 4-1 to pass an ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Joe Carollo to ban homeless encampments.
The ordinance gives police the authority to give a written warning to violators, allow them only two hours to remove their belongings, and offer them a shelter bed if it is available. If they refuse, police can arrest them, and they can face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
The definition of encampment in the ordinance is the presence of any tent or structure for human habitation, usage of heating devices, and the “unauthorized accumulation of personal property,” larger than three cubic feet.
The sole vote against the ordinance was by Commissioner Ken Russell. “The solutions to homelessness exist and do not require reinventing the wheel,” he told the Miami New Times. “We have the land and we have the funds and I hope to work with my fellow commissioners on proven solutions that we can implement now.”
According to the Miami Herald, Carollo resists calling the ordinance criminalizing, pointing to Miami’s funding of homeless programs and “arguing that it shouldn’t grant unchecked freedoms to people who choose to live on the street and resist shelter.”
This is a common argument for criminalizing those living on the streets, but fails to take into consideration the sometimes dangerous conditions of shelters where many might have their few belongings stolen. Even the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust’s chairman, Rob Book, has continuously repeated the belief of unhoused people wanting to stay on the streets, refusing to support public bathrooms as he believes they sustain homelessness.
One advocate against the resolution is David Peery, an attorney and plaintiff from the Supreme Court case that created the Pottinger Agreement — a federal consent decree that disallowed arresting unhoused people for “life sustaining activities,” such as public urination, sleeping outside and cooking with fires. The Pottinger Agreement was abolished in 2019 after the city argued it was no longer necessary because of it’s improvement in services for those experiencing homelessness.
He makes clear to the Miami Herald that “criminalization is exactly what it is. This is an ordinance that establishes criminal punishment. That’s criminalization.”
Along with a ban on encampments, the city commissioners also passed a resolution creating a “Adopt-a-Homeless Person” program with a 3-2 vote.
Carollo interjected during public comment on the encampment ban ordinance to suggest it be created.
He asked the crowd, of which many criticized the ordinance for criminalizing homelessness, whoever would adopt a homeless person to raise their hands. He then told the city clerk to “make a list of all the people here that want to adopt a homeless…so that they can bring [them] into their home and they can give them all the care, the love, the humane treatment that they want,” repeatedly referring to unhoused people as “a homeless.”
He continued to suggest the crowd “adopt a homeless” and put a tent up in their front yard if they don’t have space inside, against continuous jeers and yells from the crowd and repeated calls by the Chairman, Ken Russell, for the commissioner to allow the meeting to continue.
Carollo continued by yelling, “I’m sick of this hypocrisy!” and told Chairman Russell to “get them all out of here,” as the crowd yelled back.
According to the resolution, the program is to “provide aid to homeowners in the city that are willing to assist the local homeless population by welcoming a homeless individual into their home to live with them by providing a bed and daily essentials such as food, water, electricity and any other necessities as deemed appropriate by the program at no cost to the city.”
Within the resolution, it also directs the City Manager, Art Noriega, to “explore all feasible options to establish such Program at no cost to the City,” referencing options such as the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.
“This resolution is a joke, right?” Dean Bairaktaris, a homeless advocate in Fort Lauderdale who is experiencing homelessness, told the Miami New Times. “Who’s going to adopt anyone? It’s a fucking sick joke.”
Both the resolution and ordinance are effective immediately.