Miami’s homeless greatly in need of a helping hand

Carla St.Louis | 2/13/2014, 9 a.m.

The typical face of a homeless person in Miami-Dade County looks more familiar than you think.

According to Benjamin Waxman, he’s “single, middle-aged, Black male between 40-55 years old and most likely born and/or raised in South Florida.”

Waxman, an attorney with the law firm Robbins, Tunkey, Ross, Amsel, Raben & Waxman, P.A. should know as he’s the lead counsel in the Pottinger rights case involving the homeless community and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida that was recently mediated.

In a report titled, Council on Homelessness 2013, researchers found that 3,734 homeless people reside in Miami-Dade County with the majority being Black men between the ages of 24-60 years old.

Retha Boone-Fye, the executive director of the Miami-Dade Black Affairs Advisory Board applauded the ACLU on protecting the homeless’ civil rights.

“I believe the ACLU  is correct in addressing any issues dealing with discrimination,” said Boone. “The message to the homeless is that there is an entity concerned for their welfare. The ACLU has as it’s core value the protection of those who need their assistance.”  

How the Pottinger rights protect us

The updated Pottinger rights lists 11 public behaviors ranging from sleeping to bathing in public spaces that the homeless population cannot be arrested for.

The new Pottinger has other clauses: it no longer protects sex offenders and bans cooking fires and makeshift tents on public property.  

The renegotiated Pottinger rights prevents homeless individuals from obstructing sidewalks while sleeping outside, building temporary structures in parks and littering 300 feet from trash cans.

As in the original settlement, if a bed is available at a shelter and a homeless person refuses it, he or she can be arrested. However, it expands on the definition of an available shelter bed to include mats.

While Pottinger received many changes, the City’s most controversial request, seizing property left in public areas, was denied.

“Miami-Dade County’s homeless community has been the subject of many debates over the years,” said Boone-Fye. “ I think the City of Miami is attempting to strike a balance between the homeless, the police department and the business community.”

Miami’s war on poverty

By the 1990s, the number of Americans living on the streets or temporary facilities rose to 3 million people. With increased visibility came reactions from society to suppress the visibility and interference of homelessness on communities.

The City of Miami, in particular, had a rather inhuman relationship with their homeless population that included years of abuse by cops and enacting restrictive laws for pan-handling on streets, loitering and sleeping in public locations.

The clearest and most frequent violations that we have been able to track concern seizure and destruction of property,” said Waxman.  “We don’t know that these necessarily target Black homeless persons but given that the makeup of homeless persons on the street are noticeably predominantly Black, these violations certainly disparately impact Black homeless persons.”

In 1998, three homeless men filed a complaint against City officers, alleging they forcefully removed them off the street, arrested them and confiscated their property.