Beach bans overnight 'camping,' rejecting pleas for the homeless

By NICOLE WHITE - March 21, 2002

Despite impassioned pleas from advocates for the homeless, Miami Beach
commissioners voted Wednesday to ban ''camping'' or sleeping overnight in
the city's public places.

Under the ordinance, officers must offer violators a chance to stay in a
homeless shelter. They face arrest and a fine if they refuse.

But the commission rejected parts of the proposal that would have let police
arrest violators even if alternate shelter were not available.

The commission voted 6-1 for the ordinance, with Commissioner Saul Gross
the dissenter. Gross said he had concerns about the possibility of litigation
and wanted more discussion.

Ben Waxman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the
ordinance sends a signal to the homeless that they are not welcome in
Miami Beach, and that the city favors enforcement over treatment.

''This smells like, looks like an anti-homeless ordinance,'' Waxman said.

He cautioned that the city was treading dangerously close to the path taken
by the city of Miami, which the ACLU sued in 1988 for violating the rights of homeless people. A federal judge in 1992 found that Miami was violating the Constitution and halted arrests for minor crimes related to homelessness.
His order in the Pottinger case pushed community leaders to fashion a
rehabilitation plan.

But Miami Beach officials vigorously defended their decision, saying they
resent the comparison to Miami's treatment of its homeless residents in the
period before the Pottinger case.

''This is not a homeless ordinance or an anti-homeless ordinance -- it's a
quality-of-life ordinance,'' said Assistant City Attorney Martha Diaz Perez.
``This has never been an issue to target anyone.''

City leaders said the ordinance would affect anyone who chooses to nap on
public beaches or in parks.

''The city has gone out of its way to address the poor and the homeless,''
Commissioner Jose Smith said.

City officials point to their commitment of $500,000 to programs for
homeless people, their funding for transitional housing, and the city's
homeless coordinator position.

Vivian Guzman, director of the city's Neighborhood Services, said the city
has also set aside funds for homelessness prevention, including payment of
rent for families facing eviction.

Guzman rejected criticism that the city does not have enough beds or
shelter for its estimated homeless population of 600.

She said Miami Beach has access to at least 190 beds within the city.

She said the city works with the county to provide shelter in Miami Beach
and across the bay, and also has access to six facilities in the city that offer
transitional and permanent housing. Two other shelters have been proposed
for the city.

Following the decision, resident Frank Del Vecchio said: ``I'm satisfied that
we [opponents] made the point that services are more important than

``We're going to watch this to see if the city comes through with their

Camillus House vote stirs uproar

BY OSCAR CORRAL - March 26, 2002

Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. called for police backup Monday night after an angry crowd shouted insults and obscenities at city officials over their support for moving Camillus House to another Overtown location.

At a community redevelopment meeting in the Doubletree Grand Hotel,
commissioners listened to Dale Simpson, executive director of Camillus
House, say the soup kitchen had three options on where to relocate. One of
them was a lot on Northwest Third Court between Seventh and Fifth streets.

''Boo! Don't even think about it! No!'' residents who came to the meeting

Teele focused on one of the shouting protesters, lawyer Tom Jordan.
''Would you have police officers escort this man out of the room?'' Teele

But Jordan, who said he lived in the neighborhood, continued his loud
objections as Teele and fellow Commissioners Johnny Winton and Tomas
Regalado looked on with stunned faces.

''This is a public hearing,'' Jordan yelled. ``What have you done for
Overtown in the last 50 years?''

Other protesters began yelling obscenities at Teele as Winton came to his

''What did you do the last 50 years, sit on your butt and yell?'' Winton said.

The crowd quieted down as two police officers arrived. No one was arrested.

Commissioners took a straw vote to decide between two locations at the
April 25 meeting: the Northwest Third Court location and a lot on Northwest
Second Avenue near the Metrorail station.