“Police, water truck, dumpster arrive to clean homeless area under I-95 — then pull back”
Robert Pearson and Farrah Milton left the tent they’re living in on SW 2nd St. in downtown Miami on Wednesday morning to find a notice from the city of Miami: “This area will be cleaned on Wednesday November 17th” “They’re coming today,” Pearson said at 8:30 a.m., with Milton, his fiance, by his side. The previous week, a near-identical notice warned of “cleanings” throughout the week of November 15-19 and warned people residing on SW 2nd St. underneath the I-95 overpass to remove their personal belongings from the site. But the cleanup, which sent a wave of fear and anxiety throughout the blocks under the overpass where some 20 tents are pitched, did not happen.
At around 9:30 a.m. the homeless people on the block noticed police cars, a water tank and a dump truck with a claw for picking things up off the street, which they recognized from previous “cleaning” efforts, where police removed them and threw away their belongings. Police and outreach officers from the Miami Homeless Assistance Program, commonly known as “green shirts,” spoke to homeless people, several of whom accepted shelter beds. After about an hour, the police cars, water truck and dump truck left without having done the cleaning the notices had warned about, leaving homeless people and advocates confused.
The notice was posted by the city of Miami’s Department of Human Services. The DHS has not responded to multiple requests for comment and clarification about the cleaning notices. Outreach officers at the scene said they were not authorized to speak about what they were doing. Police officers only said they were “working” and “doing outreach,” and would not give any more information. Homeless people like Pearson and Milton are worried about their fate after getting the notice. The couple both grew up in Liberty City and most recently were living in West Palm Beach before becoming homeless about a month ago. They say they’ve been trying to get shelter beds but so far have been unable to. “They say they’re coming today but where are we supposed to go?” Pearson said. “It’s dangerous out here,” said Milton, who has medical issues, including seizures. “But we don’t have any other choice.”
Many other homeless people say that shelters can feel like prisons and have grown a distrust for Miami’s authorities after having their things destroyed during cleanings in the past. “They took everything from me. I lost my birth certificate, my Social Security card and my medications during one of those cleanups,” said Jerry Mobley, 58, who has been living on the streets for 11 years. “Them coming in with all that muscle like that, how can I trust them?” The posted warnings about cleanings come around two weeks after the Miami City Commission passed a controversial ordinance that outlaws encampments and says that officers should arrest violators who refuse to go to a shelter. The ordinance, which was met with fierce opposition from housing rights’ activists, will go into effect on November 28. David Peery, an attorney and homeless advocate, said that he was confused by the warning signs posted. “The anxiety is thick in the air,” Peery said. “These are not just cleanups. In the past, they’ve been violent actions that traumatize people. And we don’t know what’s going on now and how it’s gonna be implemented.”