In the shadows of – and in contrast to – the city’s new multimillion-dollar condominiums, hundreds of Miami’s homeless can be seen seeking shelter in tents. To address what he calls “safety concerns,” City Commissioner Mark Sarnoff is proposing an ordinance designed to remove those tents by outlawing camping on public property.
Sarnoff told fellow commissioners it would give police the right to issue citations and steer homeless people off the streets and into city-sponsored shelters.
“I think the purpose behind this ordinance, Mr. Chair, is very simply to give the police officers a legal basis to give a lawful order,” Sarnoff said. “It doesn’t have to end up with a criminal penalty. It could end up with a civil infraction.”
Some fear the ordinance would criminalize homelessness and make it more difficult for Miami’s most destitute population to find jobs and permanent housing. Their advocates believe it also may violate a legal agreement the city made with the ACLU in 1998 protecting homeless individuals from being arrested for “life-sustaining acts.”
Ron Book, chairman of Miami-Dade County’s Homeless Trust, told the commission that he believes the proposed law has a more sinister intention.
“Commissioner Sarnoff is disingenuous at best in his halfhearted effort to try and help us with the homeless movement,” Book said. “I still find what he’s doing to criminalize tents just wrong.”
City leaders have deferred a final vote on the anti-camping ordinance until next month.
Note: The City of Pensacola will workshop its remaining homeless ordinances in May.