Miami debates bill to outlaw homeless people refusing shelter

  • Estimated 600,000 people in the United States believed to be homeless
  • The Miami Beach commissioner believes city has compassionate solution
  • An advocate for the homeless says it is just "moving pieces around"

(NewsNation) — Many cities across the U.S. have made it illegal to live and sleep outside on public property. Now, Miami wants to take that policy further, with a new proposal that makes it illegal to refuse help.

Miami Beach Commissioner Steven Meiner is pushing a new law to deal with the homeless population. Saying he is driven by concern over what he is seeing in other cities such as San Francisco, where major businesses have vowed to leave amid rising crime and a growing homeless population.

“If you do not have enforcement, and we’ve seen this in certain areas LA, San Francisco, if you don’t have vigorous enforcement, the problem is going to spiral out of control,” Meiner said.

Miami Beach already has a “no camping” ban in place.

Meiner says he views this proposal as a compassionate approach, pushing people to the shelters with services already being offered.

“We are offering the olive branch, we’re offering before the police officer arrests them, we’re saying, ‘If you accept the shelter, you will not be arrested for sleeping here.’ At some point, we need the enforcement and we’re offering people every opportunity to help themselves,” Meiner said.

But advocates for the homeless population disagree.

“Arresting somebody at $130 a day only to have them come back out onto the streets does nothing. You’re just playing checkers, you’re moving pieces around on a game board,” said Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.

Book believes the answer to the nation’s homelessness crisis lies in an investment in affordable housing, not with temporary shelters.

“The thought of shelter for people (is) get them out of sight, get them out of the way, get them out of my presence. Shelter is an easy solution. Go put them away, they’re not my problem. I don’t see them. They’re invisible to me,” Book said. “You don’t solve the problem that way. The problem is much broader, much wider.”

The National Homeless Law Center agrees punishing people for sleeping outdoors only exacerbates the problem, making it harder for people to find jobs or a home.

The number of people living on the streets reached record highs last year, boosted in part by the pandemic, the National Alliance to End Homelessness says.

Currently, an estimated 600,000 people are homeless across the U.S.


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