|Homeless man illustration|
Human rights organizations are furious after the City of Miami, Florida is considering legislation that will jail homeless people, who are caught eating or sleeping in public.
If life was not already hard enough for people who cannot pay for an apartment, they could soon find themselves imprisoned and their belongings confiscated if they are caught performing certain daily activities in public.
Before the year 1991, Miami police arrested homeless people for crimes like sleeping on park benches, eating on sidewalks or congregating in public places.
In 1998, the City of Miami reached a historic agreement, known as Pottinger v. City of Miami, and Miami police officers were instructed not to arrest homeless people for "quality of life" misdemeanors, but instead, to offer them a bed in a nearby shelter. This new emphasis on providing homeless people with housing has been remarkably successful.
In the 15 years since the agreement, the number of people living on Miami streets has dropped from about 6,000 to 351, due in large part to more shelters and support.
Despite the success of the program, a Commissioner for the City of Miami wants to cancel the agreement and resume the arrest of homeless people, who live on the streets.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff wants the city to cancel the 1998 agreement and resume the persecution of the homeless. Specifically, Sarnoff and its allies in the City Commission have hired a law firm to try to amend the agreement so that the police can arrest anyone who blocks a sidewalk, cooks a meal in a public area with a fire, litters, urinates or defecates in public, or engaging in lewd conduct, rather than offer these people a bed to sleep.
Sarnoff argues that homeless people in the downtown business district are a "chronic problem". Instead of asking for more funds to support the hundreds of homeless people living in Miami, Sarnoff’s solution is jail.