Miami’s Homeless Crisis Continues Despite Millions

BY BILL FITCH, BHA VICE PRESIDENT – Like most major cities, Miami has an issue with homeless people living on our streets. There are many tragic stories about how they became homeless and, as a society, we have a responsibility to provide housing for them. In turn, as tax-paying citizens, we have a right to live in a clean, sanitary, safe environment. Caring for the needs of the homeless enhances our quality of life as well: cleaner streets and sidewalks, less harassment, and a safer environment.

Addressing the issue of the homeless on our streets requires a safe place for them to sleep, available sanitation facilities, a place to bathe and keep clean, and access to medical assistance. Without this, they have no choice but to use the streets and our property. This has a negative impact on Miami’s status as a world class city as well as on our lives and property values.

The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust

The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust (The Trust) was created in 1993 by the Board of County Commissioners to:

  • Administer proceeds of the one-percent food and beverage tax;
  • Implement the Miami-Dade County Community Homeless “continuum of care” Plan; and
  • Serve in an advisory capacity to the Board of County Commissioners on issues involving homelessness.

As envisioned in the Miami-Dade County Community Homeless Plan, this focuses on:

  • Emergency Housing (Temporary Care)
  • Transitional Housing (Primary Care)
  • Permanent Housing (Advanced Care)

Over the years, the Trust has refused to address the condition of the unsheltered homeless on our streets. Its position seems to be that other than housing, any assistance given to the unsheltered homeless constitutes enabling them to stay on the streets.

Enabling is a major problem. We want to help, but giving them money, food or living supplies such as tents, backpacks or luggage, encourages them to stay on the streets. Research has shown that a large percentage need medical care, abuse assistance and similar services they can only get at a facility.

HomelessTrusttableThe Trust’s January 2015 “Point in Time Census Count” showed 4,152 homeless, 1,007 of who were unsheltered. This number has not decreased in the past six years. In spite of the efforts of the Trust and other charitable organizations, there are not enough beds in housing facilities to accommodate the unsheltered homeless we have, and the Trust has not undertaken to build more.

The Trust’s 2014-2015 Budget & Capital Plan shows the its goals and limited accomplishments in the chart to the left.

In 2009 the Trust had a budget of $42.3 million; for 2015 it is $57.7 million. The 2004 Budget Plan was to eliminate homelessness in Miami by 2012. In 10 years the Trust has spent in excess of $400 million, but has failed to reduce the unsheltered homeless population.

Miami Homeless Assistance Program (MHAP)

MHAP is a City of Miami office that is a key component in the Countywide Continuum of Care System. Its mission is to provide assessment, placement, information, referral and transportation services, and to employ and train the formerly homeless. The City does not operate any homeless facilities; these services are provided by the County. However, since a significant number of the homeless population resides within city limits, it provides outreach services.

In August 2014, the City instituted a Shelter Program funded by the City of Miami, CRA Omni, CRA Park West, the Downtown Development Agency and private contributions. This one-year experiment, which expires on July 31, 2015, has a primary purpose to help the many unsheltered homeless not being provided for by the Trust.

The City’s program purchased 100 sleeping mats for them, placed in the Camillus House Courtyard. This also gave the homeless access to the shower/bathroom facilities, medical attention and counseling offered by Camillus.

In the first five months of operation, the City of Miami’s program was very successful in getting homeless people off the streets at night and helping them move to permanent housing arrangements.

The Pottinger Agreement

In 1998 a settlement was reached between the ACLU, representing a class of homeless, and the City of Miami that prevented the City and police from controlling the behavior of the homeless on public property. Previously, if a homeless person urinated, defecated or undressed and exposed themselves in public, or slept on the sidewalk blocking pedestrians, the police would arrest them. The ACLU stopped that.

In 2014, the City successfully got some of these restrictions eased so that now the homeless must use a bathroom if one is available within a specified distance. They also may not block public passage, although they are allowed to sleep anywhere on public property. The Trust supported the ACLU in opposing these revisions as denying the homeless their rights. Our rights as tax-paying citizens, living and working in Miami, were ignored in the opinion of many.

Public Sanitation


San Francisco has put portable “Pit Stops” in place shown here with an attendant, to provide homeless restrooms on the streets.

Sanitation for the homeless is a critical need. It is also important for the residents and workers in Miami. The homeless must now use public bathrooms but few are available, and most of the public facilities are closed at night.

The City and County of San Francisco, which has similar problems, came up with a practical solution called Pit Stop. This project, operated by San Francisco Public Works, provides portable toilets and sinks, used needle receptacles and dog-waste stations at four locations in selected neighborhoods. All are mounted on flatbed trailers that can easily be transported. Pit Stop facilities are staffed and trucked to and from the sites daily. The solar-powered toilets are serviced at a remote location before returning to the Pit Stop locations. SF Clean City staffs each location to make sure the facilities are used properly. Instituting a Pit Stop concept here is one solution to part of our multi-faceted problem. But at least it’s a start.

What to be done?

Miami will always have some homeless living on our streets; it is unrealistic to think we can shelter them all. New people will keep coming. It is time for the Trust to accept this and help provide for the safety and health of those living on our streets and for the safe and sanitary quality of life for all in Miami. The City’s experimental mat program should be continued and expanded until there are enough housing and beds available for all who need them.

With a budget of over $50 million there is no excuse the Trust cannot deliver more beds and build more housing. And to refuse to address the sanitation conditions on our streets for the homeless is unconscionable. If the Trust is unwilling to properly address these issues, it is time for all residents to demand the replacement of the board and management of the Trust with people that will do something. Their performance to date can no longer be tolerated. It is our city and our lives on the line. •

The Miami-Dade County Commission will hear a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Bruno Barreiro on June 30 about funding for more beds/mats and implementing a portable bathroom program. Funds were raised by Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff for testing the temporary bed/mat program this past year which successfully provided an alternative to the streets for 100 homeless people. The BHA Executive Board endorses measures to provide alternatives to our streets and wants to see Miami-Dade Commissioners push the Trust for better solutions.

Letters from residents to all the Commissioners and/or appearing to speak will be vital. Let the County Commission hear from you on the issue before their June 30th meeting. Email and contact info for each Commissioner is found at this link:


The chart above was prepared by the City of Miami to illustrate the homeless problem and concerns about the Trust’s progress, the funding and decisions impacting the greater community. The City and Downtown Development Authority are advocating, and BHA is supporting, continuation of the City of Miami/Camillus House program until the Trust builds more permanent housing and more beds.

Reprinted from BHA News Summer 2015