Dulcee Barnes and other members of Sound Miami, a mutual assistance a group formed during last year’s racial justice protests, they meet on Fridays to pack sandwiches and collect clothes, shoes, toiletries and other resources for unprotected people in the city of Miami. Every Saturday for the past eight months, they have been delivering supplies for as many as 100 people living in tents around NW 17th Street and Seventh Court.
“By doing this for eight months, you’re really starting to build relationships with some of these people,” Barnes says New Times. “Every Saturday we would go see them and hear their stories. It was like family.”
On the morning of Saturday, February 13, members of the group once again headed to the camp. But when they arrived, they all left.
Barnes was not only bothered by the absence of the people she was used to seeing – people whose trust the group had gained by appearing every weekend and providing supplies. She was also disturbed by the sight of their belongings on the piles on the sidewalk. Barnes was particularly concerned about a man she met who was used in a wheelchair.
“When we got there, his wheelchair was on the corner,” she says. “There were piles and piles of tents, food, people’s clothes, their things.”
As she later learned, the city of Miami cleared the camp as part of a new action against people living on the city streets. According to attorneys and homeless advocates, city staff gave an ultimatum to people from a 17th Street camp on February 10: Go to a hotel and put them in quarantine or jail.
Since at least January, commissioners have been discussing the city’s “homelessness problem” and demanding that service providers like the Miami-Dade County Homeless Foundation, Camillus House and the city’s Department of Social Services do more to keep people off the streets. Document addressed “Miami Street Cleaning and Boarding Plan” outlines a new approach to the city and indicates that the city has been conducting tenders for the homeless since last month. The document shows that the clean-ups took place on February 3, February 10 and 24, and the second is scheduled for next Wednesday, March 3.
The city plan also says that ten cameras will be installed to monitor some camps. The document says that the purpose is to watch out for illegal violations of disposal, to identify “illegal feeders” according to city regulations it restricts the public feeding of the homelessand detect drug use and drug sales in and around camps.
Miami City officials have not responded to several requests by email for comment New Times. But lawyers and jurists say they have concerns about the city’s access. Last week, a chapter of Greater Miami, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to city officials seeking to stop “a continuous wave of cruel and destructive encroachments by homeless camps across the city.”
The letter states in part:
Eliminating all camps would do nothing to address the city’s failure to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing. Furthermore, at a time when the police and other official violence against blacks are under increasing surveillance across the country, the City cannot help but be aware that the population it targets and threatens to arrest is mostly blacks. Finally, camp closures when the city knows that shelters (usually always full) are currently operating at reduced capacity because Covid opposes explicit CDC guidelines.
Targeted screenings are the result of erosion of legal protection for the homeless in Miami. In 1998, the city reached a significant agreement with a group of Miami homeless people and their attorneys who established protection for those experiencing homelessness. The Pottinger’s agreement, as it was called, prevented police officers from arresting people for engaging in “life activities” such as sleeping outside or putting their belongings on the sidewalk, and prohibited police from destroying items without protection. But the city began fighting the agreement in 2008, and in February 2019, a federal judge disabled Pottinger.
The termination of the agreement opened the door for more hostile implementation of roofless camps, including the types of clean-ups that took place last month. The ACLU in its recent letter accused city field workers of being “rude and aggressive” during the cleanup.
“City workers seized and destroyed people’s belongings, including their tents,” the letter said.
One man reported that he was injured when he was dragged out into the street while he was still in his tent, which a city worker was trying to get rid of. According to the ACLU letter, some people were offered hotel rooms but were not given information on how long they could stay or what would happen after the end of their hotel stay. (The County Homeless Association has teamed up with hotels to provide quarantine and isolation facilities for those who are not protected.)
Instead of displacing people living on the street, the ACLU is urging the city to provide trash cans, hand washing stations, public toilets and other sanitation services. The organization also rejected the city’s plan to install surveillance cameras.
“It’s a little different than having a camera in your bedroom or house that shows where you live and what you do,” says Benjamin Waxman, an ACLU lawyer who helped write the letter. “As much as I don’t think it’s unconstitutional or illegal, it raises concerns about government interference in people’s personal affairs in public. We’re always worried about what the next step is in invading privacy. I don’t know it’s an effective way to achieve the city’s goals. cameras there. I think it’s very worrying that we’re putting cameras on and monitoring people. This is just another step in that very Orwellian process. “
David Peery, a lawyer and attorney who once lived on the streets of Miami himself, says it’s wrong for city leaders to say homelessness is an individual choice, as Commissioner Manolo Reyes pointed out at a recent meeting. Peery says the culprits are politicians for not adequately supporting affordable housing and for neglecting the most vulnerable cities.
“They use cleanliness and sanitation as an excuse to clean up these areas, but the unsanitary conditions in those areas are caused by the unscrupulous actions of the city of Miami,” Peery argues. “They have decided not to put public toilets, trash cans or hand washing stations in these areas. So they use the spread of public waste as an excuse. They continue to create a problem and then cite problems as a reason to clean the camp. conditions create and build to the point that they then say, “We have to do this for public safety.” They clash respecting people’s civil rights, the integrity of their property, and their right to live in the city without being disturbed by the police. ”
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