The resolution to move the homeless from Miami to the islet of Virginia Key created controversy from the start. Just hours after its approval in the Municipal Commission, protests were registered in the area, where the construction of up to 100 small houses for the homeless was proposed and a series of voices opposed to the project emerged. Today the initiative is on ‘pause’, postponed. Some do not see a future for him.

In the midst of the controversy unleashed around what the Miami legislative body decided, the mayor of this Florida city, Francis Suárez, and the municipal commissioner Joe Carollo, promoter and visible face of the proposal, announced a ‘moratorium’ of six months to “find a better place” and for that task they asked for the Miami-Dade County competition. Even long before, two other sites had been mentioned to execute the initiative.

For its part, the Homeless Trust, a trust that manages resources for the fight against homelessness in the county, a few days later released a proposal that in some way disputes that of Commissioner Carollo. It also aims to allocate housing for the homeless, but under a different model and conditions.

Critics of the initiative consider Virginia Key an “ecological paradise” that could be lost forever if the controversial pilot program continues. In the area there is a public park, a lagoon for recreational uses and bicycle paths, among other attractions, although there is also a huge county garbage dump that processes the waste. Those who support the proposal to serve the homeless there consider that it is an appropriate place because it is uninhabited and distant from residential areas.

Virginia Key is in the jurisdiction of the City of Miami, but is also part of Miami-Dade District 7, which is represented by Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who has expressed her rejection of the proposition and claims to be working to present options to the leadership of the Capital of the Sun, which allow addressing the crisis of homeless people.

Esther Alonso, owner of the Virginia Key recreation center, joined the voices of protest, along with environmental groups and sports clubs. “We have to try to move these people to a place where they have adequate [social] assistance,” Alonso argued.

Antecedent

In the past, in the 1980s, cities like Washington and New York encouraged the transfer of homeless people to cities like Miami, according to documents from the time. There were even reports that the homeless were paid for bus tickets to go to Miami. Then the Homeless Trust was created by referendum, under the proposal of the then county mayor Álex Penelas.

Later, homelessness grew again in such a way that the institutions that regulate this issue find it difficult to provide a definitive solution.

About three weeks ago, the Miami Commission voted in favor of a proposal to build 50 to 100 tiny houses on the northeast shore of Virginia Key, where the City would transport a significant number of its homeless population currently living on the streets of Miami. booming areas like Downtown, Overtown and Wynwood. Campaign tents, tents and shelters made from cardboard or wood, among other modalities, disfigure these places.

The project began in 2021. Commissioner Manolo Reyes recalled that initially the Police were asked to carry out work to evict the homeless from the streets.

“At that time, I presented a motion to create a ‘transition zone’ and Mr. [William] Porro [director of the Miami Department of Human Services] was entrusted to look for some spaces where we could take the homeless. That’s when he submitted three locations and Commissioner Carollo moved to support the Virginia Key option,” said the municipal legislator.

The other two sites were discarded in a vote that has as a precedent that the resolution was initially rejected by the local commissioners. However, after a pause, the project managed to pass 3-2 with a favorable vote from legislator Álex Díaz de la Portilla.

“Virginia Key was one of the places. But there were two others: one very close to where Judge Steven Leifman’s Miami Center for Mental Health & Recover is being built, and the other under I-95,” Reyes said.

Carollo said at the time that they were “small houses, about 100 square feet, as has been done in cities like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.”

Funds to finance the program, according to the District 3 commissioner, would come from the budget allocated to The Homeless Trust.

“The resources initially come from the millions of dollars that the City of Miami spends every year, which is given mostly to The Homeless Trust, which is not doing its job well because many times they do not have spaces for these people,” he said. Carollo.

He asserted that the “transition zone” would have private surveillance and police, after which he said that “it is nothing new, it is something that is being done in many cities; there would be adequate staff to care for them, mental health and drug addiction services.”

Pause the project

Days later, the controversial project was put on hold. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and City Commissioner Joe Carollo held a press conference to announce the search for other alternatives within six months, this time with the help of Miami-Dade County.

In this task, the county mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, would have some role, who questioned the possibility of transferring the homeless to Virginia Key due to difficulties related to “access to basic services, safety and well-being of homeless people who could be relocated there, the historical importance of the site, infrastructure considerations, [and] environmental concerns.”

In addition, the construction of ‘casitas’ on Virginia Key would require a “change of zoning”, that is, modifying the existing urban regulations there, since it is not a residential area. And this could open a Pandora’s box that would give way to more buildings on the small island.

Mayor Suarez stated that the new options could be “both inside and outside the city limits.” Carollo, for his part, pointed out that “when the City tried in a humane way to get these people off the streets, so they didn’t have to be out in the open, we called the homeless shelter and there are no beds left.”

In recent days, the Homeless Trust announced a plan that could take between 400 and 550 people off the streets in 18 months.

Ron Book, president of the Trust, told local media that the initiative would be carried out in “multi-family homes”, in “locations that are already selected”, but which he preferred not to mention, with funds of around 45 million dollars.

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