Miami’s Homeless Say City Workers Are Stealing Their Stuff
Clickkeyword[Kevin+Henderson]” >Kevin Henderson had a rude awakening early the morning of July 2, as if sleeping on the sidewalk adjacent to the Highland Professional Building on NW 18th Street wasn’t bad enough. The building is a frequent bed down spot for the homeless because of its wide overhang, which prote rolex watches cts them from the rain, and it had been a dreary, wet night.
It’s “the final solution to the homeless problem. They treat us like Hitler.”
“When I wake up, I see bags on top of bags piled up. They were throwing people’s stuff on the truck,” Henderson recalls, his version of events supported by several fellow homeless people who also say they were victimized.
“It was the green shirts,” Henderson says.
The “green shirts” are a division of more than 40 workers, most formerly homeless themselves, who are employed by Miami’s Homeless Assistance Program (MHAP) and tasked with offering services and shelter.
Henderson says that incident was the third time the city workers had stolen his stuff. This time around, he says, they took “six pairs of shoes, all my clothes, they got my food stamp card, my ID, my social security card, my prison ID, and they got $250 in cash. They didn’t even bother to go through the stuff to see what was important to me.”
In interviews conducted over the past six months, dozens of homeless people living in downtown Miami have complained about rampant property theft by city employees. It’s just the latest insult in what has been a hostile year for the city’s most marginalized population. In April, city officials, prompted by business owners who blame the presence of homeless people for economic woes, proposed rolling back the few basic protections afforded to the homeless protections they had fought more than a decade to get. If a judge OKs the rollbacks this month, it will be like going back in time to a much darker age.
Dozens of homeless people around the city say they’ve been victimized by green shirts; half a dozen say they were hassled in the same incident that Henderson describes. Clickkeyword[Vicki+Perez]” >Vicki Perez, who only months earlier had been living in her own Miami condo, recalls the same rainy morning. She managed to get her suitcase returned before the green shirts drove off, but it wasn’t without a fight.
“They started taking our things, our belongings, and throwing [them] onto the truck. They took my carrier, and that’s when I got up and got really upset,” she recalls. “They were very rude. They were horrible. I don’t think we should be treated that way because we’re living out in the streets.”Once their makeshift sitting room was clean, Gene and a few fellow homeless perched side by side on plastic crates and nodded in affirmation as one after the next recounted a litany of recent abuse by cops and city workers.
A few, such as Clickkeyword[Jesse+Shiggs]” >Jesse Shiggs, recalled the bad old days prior to 1998, when the head of the division that enforced anti vagrancy laws referred to his crew as “bum busters.” Cops would regularly arrest the homeless for no reason or confiscate their belongings. Or worse. In one incident, cops handcuffed residents of a Lummus Park homeless encampment and tossed their possessions including personal identification, medicine, clothing, and a Bible onto a pile and ignited it into a flaming pyre. Adding to the grinding day to day harassment that homeless people had been enduring for decades, that incident sparked the homeless co rolex watches mmunity’s desire to fight back.
In 1988, the Clickkeyword[American+Civil+Liberties+Union]” >American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed Pottinger v. City of Miami on behalf of a homeless man, Clickkeyword[Michael+Pottinger]” >Michael Pottinger, and about 6,000 other homeless Miami residents. Its intent was to protect the rights of homeless folks to engage in behavior that they can’t help but perform in public eating, preparing food, sleeping 11 categories of behavior in all. The case settled after ten years of winding its way through a complex process of mediations and hearings at various levels of the federal court system. The settlement dictated that no homeless person’s property was to be confiscated or, if it was taken in the context of a justified arrest, it was to be kept safe and returned to its owner upon release from jail. Arrests would be permitted only if a homeless person, having engaged in Pottinger protected misdemeanor activity such as sleeping on a sidewalk, refused an offer of shelter. If no shelter was available, the law stipulated that police wouldn’t be allowed to even approach the person in question. Other, more serious offenses, would remain cause for arrest no matter the individual’s status as homeless. On April 9, commissioners voted unanimously to pursue modifying the settlement.
A highlight of their proposal would be to again grant cops permission to jail homeless people just for being homeless. Along with altering who is protected and what behaviors it protects, the modification includes allowing police to arrest any homeless person simply for refusing shelter three times in a 180 day span. ACLU attorneys agree that such changes would gut the original agreement.
Any changes to the settlement must be approved by the federal courts. District Judge Federico Moreno, who ruled the settlement agreement into law 15 years ago, is hearing the current case as well. He has said he seeks to conclude the process and issue a ruling by year’s end.
Though nobody disputes that downtown has thrived in the years since the settlement, it’s nonetheless being perceived as a roadblock to further growth. “We’ve come a long way in 15 years to simultaneously improve the plight of the homeless and revitalize downtown,” Commission President Marc Sarnoff wrote in a June opinion piece in the Miami Herald. Clickkeyword[Marc+Sarnoff]” >Sarnoff, who’s also DDA chairman, added, “It’s time to take the next steps to enhance the existing solutions for both the homeless and all the people of Miami.”
Clickkeyword[Marco+Antonio+Garcia+Guerrero]” >Marco Antonio Garcia Guerrero, one of the homeless men on 17th Street, calls the plan something else: “the Final Solution to the homeless problem in the City of Miami.” The phrase echoes the Nazi term used during the Holocaust. “They treat us like Clickkeyword[Adolf+Hitler]” >Hitler,” he says. Several weeks earlier, he had been briefly jailed for an undisclosed infraction and claims vital anti psychotic medication was thrown away by the arresting officer.
When Clickkeyword[Sergio+Torres]” >Sergio Torres MHAP’s administrator, who oversees green shirt activity was told that homeless people are alleging that green shirts have been stealing their belongings, he first became defensive. “If we don’t have a bed, we can’t even talk to them,” he asserted, referring to the Pottinger stipulation that precludes police and city workers from approaching homeless people when all shelter beds are full.
“Our goal is to get people to shelter,” Torres insisted. But pressed on the matter, he also acknowledged that claims of theft by city workers have gone on for more than a decade. “I’ve heard the same complaints since 1999.”
Still, he insisted, “We don’t discard any valuables. We find cardbo rolex watches ard or blankets that are contaminated. Under Pottinger, a blanket is considered contaminated. We discard that. I don’t like to say ‘destroy.'”
Clickkeyword[Benjamin+Waxman]” >Benjamin Waxman, lead ACLU attorney in the Pottinger case since its original filing in 1988, disagrees. “Discarding is destroying,” says Waxman, adding that “there’s no provision [under Pottinger] that says a blanket per se is contaminated.
“If it looks like property that belongs to a homeless person, they can’t touch it,” Waxman continues. Blankets and even cardboard could be defined as property, he says.
Asked whether he would pursue any investigation into the claims of theft, Torres said, “I can’t do anything about it unless I have proof of their allegations. They should call the police.”
“I’ve been doing bond hear rolex watches ings at least two days a week, and I get all of the homeless who have been arrested on Sunday and Monday [on trespass violations],” Petersen says. “My reading of Pottinger is that it was supposed to preclude these kinds of arrests. You have people, especially people of color, being arrested for standing around. It doesn’t meet the legal requirements of a trespass. It’s a waste of resources.
“I get 20 or 30 a day, and about 85 percent get dismissed,” Petersen adds. He categorizes the overwhelming majority of these cases “a total violation of Pottinger.”While homeless folks across the city await the conclusion of the Pottinger modification hearings, they’re concerned that a case being conducted in a penthouse courtroom of a plate glass architectural gem the Clickkeyword[Wilkie+Ferguson]” >Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Federal Courthouse might be too far above their latest, street level trials for them to be heard.