Click to view image: 'Photo'
After three years, county officials are accelerating efforts to shut down and move a colony of convicted sex offenders living under a Miami causeway.
Facing growing criticism over 70 registered sex offenders living in squalid conditions under a Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge, Miami-Dade officials and homeless advocates say they are working to relocate them to housing.
In the first step, eight camp dwellers will be moved to a private apartment building in South Miami-Dade in coming days, and officials are looking for a bigger place for the remaining people to be housed, said Ronald Book, chairman of Miami-Dade's Homeless Trust, who is leading the effort.
"Everybody is moving in a positive direction, but we're not where we need to be,'' Book said of the drive toward a permanent solution for the encampment, the target of mounting criticism at home and unflattering portrayals across the world.
Book declined to discuss possible locations, but parties familiar with the search said one venue under consideration is the old North Dade Detention Center, a county jail near the Golden Glades interchange and Miami Gardens that has been vacant since it closed in September 2007. The county has tried unsuccessfully to sell the building.
Some of those living under the bridge said late Tuesday night that they were skeptical of Book's latest plan.
Homer Barkley, 45, said he would be worried if he lived under the same roof as other sex offenders. "I have done my time for what they said I did. Now I want the chance to lead a normal life,'' Barkley said.
The Julia Tuttle encampment primarily houses registered sex offenders, mostly men, who cannot find residences elsewhere. That's because a host of county and city laws prohibit them from living within 2,500 feet of where children congregate -- including schools, parks and day care facilities.
Many of the felons are on state probation, and state Department of Corrections officers, unable to find suitable housing, steered them to the site as one of the few legal addresses in Miami-Dade County.
"It's a public safety issue,'' said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, who met with Book and others this week to discuss solutions. "They are living in inhumane conditions. It's not safe for them -- and it's not safe for others.''
Book said his efforts have focused on finding long-term living arrangements that would not run afoul of laws. The ideal place, he said, would be an apartment building or former hotel that is in foreclosure.
Still, many thorny issues must be ironed out. Who would supervise the residents? Who would pay for liability insurance, and their rent? "I can't have these people living on the taxpayer's nickel for the long-term,'' Book said.
As the camp's ranks have swelled over the past three years or so, so has the flood of unflattering attention -- and lawsuits.
Debate over the sex offender encampment was chronicled Tuesday afternoon in a national broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
On July 9, the ACLU sued Miami-Dade County, saying its 2,500-foot ordinance should be struck down because it cannot trump the less-stringent 1,000-foot limit mandated by state law. The result, the legal group contends: a shantytown that increases, rather than helps diminish, the danger to Miamians.
Other critics agree, saying the overlapping laws actually push sex offenders underground and make it harder for officials to track them because few have stable addresses.
On July 10, Miami sued the state, saying the camp is too close to Picnic Island No. 4, an island park in Biscayne Bay accessible only by boat.
Gov. Charlie Crist's office, in a letter to Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez before the lawsuit was filed, said that "local officials are charged with exploring lawful housing options'' for offenders under state corrections supervision.
While the efforts to relocate the camp dwellers is laudable, the overly strict local laws will promote creation of encampments elsewhere, predicted Maria Kayanan, associate legal director for Miami's ACLU.
"Nobody is addressing the root problem -- the local governments are interfering with state statute,'' she said. "Everybody is pointing fingers at each other and trying to put a Band-Aid on the issue.''
Miami Herald staff writers Jack Dolan and Robert Samuels contributed to this report.
Tags: sex, sexual, offender, issues, sex offender, sexual offender, florida, miami, miami-dade, homeless, julia tuttle, julia tuttle causeway,
Location: Miami, Florida, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
Views: 8481 | Comments: 2 | Votes: 0 | Favorites: 0 | Shared: 0 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
|Liveleak on Facebook|