The HEAT Kills. Here’s What We Can Do to Stop It

Op-Ed by Sabrina Hennecke, MD, MPH and David Peery, JD

The HEAT is killing Miami’s homeless. 

No, we’re not referring to the Miami Heat professional basketball team, which is only metaphorically “killing” its higher seeded playoff opponents.  Nor are we writing about extreme urban heat that is, in fact, physically harming Miami’s unsheltered homeless at an alarming rate.

No, we’re pointing the finger at the Miami Police Department’s “Homeless Empowerment Assistance Team” otherwise known as the police HEAT unit.  This  squadron, armed with deadly force, spearheads an army of city street cleaners that conduct daily homeless encampment  sweeps throughout Miami, thereby routinely evicting the homeless from their sleeping spaces, destroying their valued possessions and scattering them throughout the area without regard for their dignity or humanity as human beings. 

As now demonstrated by groundbreaking research recently published in Journal of the American Medical Association (“the JAMA study”), these homeless encampment sweeps result in increased hospitalizations, escalated drug overdoses and early deaths of people experiencing homelessness.  

We are a physician and public health professional (Dr. Hennecke), and longtime advocate for the homeless (Peery) with a combined 20 years in advocacy, direct service, and lived experience of homelessness. This JAMA study provides further  validation of what we’ve personally observed for years: that homeless encampment sweeps, locally headed by the Miami Police HEAT unit, are quite literally hospitalizing and killing the vulnerable people who are condemned by poverty to live on Miami’s streets. 

Homeless encampment sweeps are often violent affairs. As on-the-ground advocates, we’ve encountered deeply troubling reports in which people were physically dragged from their tents because they didn’t move fast enough.  One woman reports that city workers tossed the ashes of her deceased mother into the trash. Another alleges that their beloved kitten went into the trash along with their tent. Though common, we’re always alarmed to see walkers, wheelchairs and canes carried off in these dump trucks. In a world where so much is already stacked against the disabled and unhoused, the loss of these essential possessions is indefensible.

As if these civil rights violations weren’t perilous enough, encampment sweeps devastate the health of unsheltered people. We (Dr. Hennecke) have personally observed several cases that brought patients to the emergency department in need of immediate medical treatment to reverse the life-threatening harm done. A sixty-seven year old woman who’s blood pressure medicine was thrown away in a street sweep placed her at risk of losing her kidneys or worse. 

An eighty-one year old man who fell and hit his head after his walker was trashed. A forty-six year old man who’s cellulitis was getting better after starting antibiotics, but reportedly lost his medication in a recent sweep and came to a local hospital unable to bear weight on the engorged and infected leg – now at risk of sepsis and loss of his limb.

Miami’s encampment sweeps are conducted under the authority and implied force of the armed police officers assigned to the Miami police HEAT unit. Unsurprisingly, the City is now battling a lawsuit in which four unhoused persons allege that the City violated their Constitutional rights through a pattern and practice of unlawfully confiscating and destroying their valued property.  

With rigorous analysis of data, the  JAMA study fundamentally confirms our observations that encampment sweeps often irreparably damage  unhoused persons’ health. The authors of this study (Peery is a co-author) produced a model to estimate the effects of  involuntary displacements on the unhoused populations of twenty-three U.S. cities, including Miami, across a ten-year period. 

We compared scenarios with no displacement, to scenarios in which street sweeps continued as they have been in numerous U.S. cities including Miami, over the next ten years. This model focused specifically on unsheltered people who inject drugs, which accounts for an estimated 30% of the unhoused population.  

Involuntary displacement compounds the stress of living unsheltered on the streets.  As a result, people increasingly self-medicate with drugs to provide some temporary solace from the ongoing  trauma of unsheltered living, with a concomitant increase in overdoses, hospitalizations and deaths. 

However, the harm caused by involuntary displacements is not restricted to cases related to drug use. Encampment sweeps break the connections that unhoused people have with physicians, outreach workers and other service providers. Unhoused individuals already have higher rates of illness and disability, and a life expectancy 12 years below the national average

Overall, we estimate that continued street sweeps will cause a 151% increase in overdose deaths, an 11% reduction in life expectancy, a 50% increase in hospitalizations, a 6% increase in serious injection related infection deaths, and a 38% decrease in medication for opiate use disorder initiations. In Miami, we estimate that nearly 70 people will suffer early deaths due to encampment sweeps across the ten year period studied. 

Ultimately, this seminal study provides valid scientific and medical evidence to inform public policy about the harms of homeless encampment sweeps.

Here are two actions that we can undertake now to stop the ongoing harm of encampment sweeps:

First, we must all urge the Miami City Commission to disband the Miami police HEAT unit. It is fiscally irresponsible to continue funding this police unit, at a cost of $70,000 per month, when the HEAT are in fact directly harming community health.  Unsheltered homelessness has actually increased since the formation of the HEAT unit. Police appropriately enforce the criminal justice laws, but should never be in the forefront of housing, healthcare and homelessness matters. Disband the HEAT now.

Second, educate yourself on the root causes of homelessness. Homelessness results from extreme poverty and the failures of our health care and housing institutions.  And homelessness is deeply rooted in racism; 60% of Miami’s homeless population is Black while the overall Miami-Dade County population is only 18% Black.  Understand that people are homeless not because of choice – rather, they are homeless because they lack choices.

Housing and housing-related policies are inextricably linked to health. Let’s all work to improve our community’s health and stop the HEAT from killing our homeless neighbors.



The Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity joins with the National Homelessness Law Center and other organizations in condemning the brutal murder of Jordan Neely in a New York subway train. Neely is one of the many persons experiencing homelessness who have been assaulted and killed because they’re unhoused. Just this past December, a vigilante was charged with the brutal murder of Charles Herman Cole as he slept in a Miami park.

Our partner, the National Coalition for the Homeless, has documented over 1,800 incidents of hate-motivated violence against people who were homeless in 20 Years of Hate: Reporting on Bias-Motivated Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness in 2018-2019. These murders are the inevitable outcome of rhetoric and policies that criminalize homelessness and dehumanize the unhoused.

Dying homeless on the streets

It’s been one of the deadliest years for the homeless in Miami-Dade County in recent memory. In 2022, 216 homeless people died on the streets of our community, one of the largest figures on record since Homeless Persons Memorial Day was created in 2000.

Homeless advocates recently gathered to honor the memory of those lost during the annual Homeless Persons Memorial Candlelight Vigil Dec. 16. It’s part of a national effort to raise awareness about the tragedy of homelessness and promote advocacy.

The memorial service included a special dedication to Jerome “Jerry” Antonio Price, who was 56 when he was fatally shot Dec. 21, 2021, while sleeping on the sidewalk in Miami’s Wynwood Design District. Price’s family wanted him to be the face of homelessness and the many people who go unidentified and unclaimed by their families or friends.

“I’m here with family to celebrate with you the life of our loved ones we’ve lost as they were living the harsh reality of homelessness,” said Jerome’s brother, Terrance Price, during the memorial service. “My hope for all the families is that the national Homeless Day memorial service will be a beacon of light to commemorate those who meant so much to us. May you find comfort in knowing that your loved one’s life was precious and meant something.”

Death among the unhoused population ranges from natural causes and disasters to addiction and illness. Jerome Price, along with 59-year-old Manuel Perez, who was also homeless, were victims of the senseless acts of violence often visited upon the homeless.

They were murdered by a suspected serial killer, Miami real estate agent Willy Suarez Maceo, who faces two counts of first-degree murder and an additional count of attempted murder for the non-fatal shooting of another man living on the streets.

“He took advantage of the vulnerable. Those individuals have families. It’s just sad, senseless and stupid. But he’s in jail now, and that’s where he’ll be for a while,” said Terrance Price.

Hard-to-come-by help

The Price family had lost contact with Jerome for more than a month and didn’t know he had died until receiving a call from a nephew who’d learned of the murder via a WPLG Local 10 News report. The family was accustomed to long periods without contact from Jerome, but he would always turn up. Losing him to murder was unimaginable.

Jerome Price had suffered from alcoholism since the late 1990s and ultimately become homeless as a result of his addiction, according to Terrance Price. His family had offered him opportunities to stay home and receive help, but like so many others, pride took over and he often refused assistance.

The Price family: Jerome’s brother Terrance, Terrance’s wife, Austria, Jerome’s sister, Maria, and her husband, Andrew.(Sydne Vigille/The M Network)

“We tried to give him help, but he didn’t want it. There’s nothing you can do; we just prayed he was OK. We kept in contact sometimes and headed to where he was to take him clothes and money, but he would say he was fine,” said Terrance Price. “He was in an accident, and I told him to stay as long as he wanted at my house to rehabilitate, but the streets called him back.”

In Miami-Dade County, the Homeless Trust administers funding, provides oversight for housing, and facilitates all overall homeless assistance with numerous nonprofit organizations in the community that provide shelter and support services to the unhoused.

David Perry, a homeless rights advocate and president of the Coalition to Advance Racial Equality, commends the county for allocating funds to help the homeless, but says the Homeless Trust must do more to fulfill its mission.

“The Homeless Trust helpline is essentially dysfunctional, and they should probably eliminate it rather than give out this false promise. I talk to people who work at that help level and they tell people immediately they’re just going to be on a waitlist,” said Perry. “Every week, I still get calls from struggling families and people because they thought they could get some help and they’re faced with actually sleeping on the concrete because they’re not getting any.”

But Perry reserves his greatest criticism for the city of Miami.

Surviving shoddy treatment

In May 2020, Miami city workers and police dismantled and wiped clean a downtown homeless encampment, stating that the people living there were trespassing per warning signs posted just the day before. Local homeless advocates called the eviction – which happened at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic – cruel and inhumane.

“The police should never be in the forefront of a homeless issue because it isn’t a criminal justice issue. Homelessness is a social issue, a housing issue and a health issue,” said Perry.

In 2021, as reported in The Miami Times and the Biscayne Times news outlets, the city implemented a plan to eliminate homeless encampments in five districts called the “City of Miami Street Clean Up and Encampment Resource Plan.”

The city began “cleaning up” the streets of tents and homeless individuals’ belongings in February 2021 and is currently facing a federal lawsuit for allegedly destroying homeless people’s property.

Then, in July 2022, the city was again heavily criticized when it supported Commissioner Joe Carollo’s “tiny homes” proposal to move Miami’s homeless population to Virginia Key. The idea was dropped after a barrage of negative publicity and fierce opposition from homeless advocates and Miami-Dade County.

“The city is the primary mover of criminalization of homelessness. They’ve intentionally traumatized the homeless and purposely punished people sleeping on the street,” said Perry. “They pretend they care about the homeless. Maybe as individuals they do, but as officials they are simply making life cruel and much worse for the people homeless on the street.”

Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, concedes that Virginia Key was the wrong location for Carollo’s “tiny homes” project, but said an opportunity came out of that failed idea.

“We found a place to take Joe Carollo’s ‘tiny homes’ project … He managed to create a conversation that I’ve been trying to create, and Virginia Key allowed that conversation to take place, which allowed me to get $43 million and find a landing place for his tiny homes,” said Book. “Sometimes my relationship with the city is extraordinary and occasionally it stretches, but a true partnership doesn’t end. You find the elasticity to bring that back to normal.”

Perry recognizes the system that requires the city’s and county’s need for one another to function and fund departments and programs. But both entities have different approaches toward homelessness, one that the city, he says, needs to change in order to make life bearable for people living on the street.

David Perry(Courtesy of David Perry)

“People like Commissioner Christine King need to change their mindset, especially since she sits on the board of directors for Camillus House. She needs to be educated that some people do not choose to sleep on the street. It’s a result of a dysfunctional system,” said Perry. “We need to provide compassion, and if Christine King wants the homeless out of her city, she needs to take more measured, long-range plans to collaborate with the Trust and to use her own city funds.”

Sharing their stories

Presenters at the memorial service spoke to their experiences with homelessness and highlighted the risk people face for being unhoused at any given moment, including circumstances that are entirely out of their control.

Mel de Miami, a Miami-Dade County artist who is part of the Youth Voice Action Council and Helping Our Miami Youth, paid tribute to the homeless lives lost at the service with her music. She sang through tears while desperately trying to keep her voice from breaking.

“I was homeless and lived in a homeless shelter for nine months when I was 19, and I can’t help but think when I look at the names on the board [that I may have] I walked past them or had befriended them,” she said. “People forget the homeless can be any of us. We’re one paycheck away, one medical bill, natural disaster or domestic violence relationship from being homeless. It could be any of us.”

Homelessness in Florida becoming middle-class problem

The pictures of a booming Florida are hard to miss.

The state’s population growth over the past 10 years leads the nation, construction has become as much a part of the state’s landscape as its coastline and, according to the governor’s office, the economy here is thriving.

So, perhaps it’s all a bit befuddling why in a state touting a 16-month consecutive streak of unemployment below the national rate, more middle-class, working families are finding themselves homeless for the first time.

Angelia Woods and her four children are among them.

Florida’s affordable housing crisis is fueling a new population of homelessness in the state — middle-class working families.

“I am what you would consider homeless,” Woods described during our interview on the patio of the Tampa hotel where she and her children have called home since July 2021.

What’s more confusing is that Woods has a solid, full-time job as an accountant with Florida’s Department of Transportation.

“I tell people I work for the state and they’re like, ‘What?’ I say, ‘Yeah, I’m an accountant for the state,'” she said.

When asked how an accountant for the state could find herself and her children homeless, Woods explained “because you have to pay to live, so therefore you can’t afford to save any money to move,” Woods said.

“I pay almost $2,000 per month to live here. Well, that’s all my income,” she said. “So I don’t have any money saved to put down first month, last month, security then you have to think about all the deposits for electricity, deposit for the water. I can’t afford all that,” she told Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone recently.

Woods said the pandemic forced her previous employer to shut down.

She lost her job and was eventually evicted because, she said, she was paying her rent at the end of the month instead of the beginning since she was waiting for unemployment benefits.

With no job, little money and an eviction on her record, Woods and her children started hotel hopping until they found the hotel where they’re currently staying in Tampa.

By the time she got her accounting job with the state, Florida’s rental market had exploded, making the numbers for her to afford a place of her own unrealistic.

“I tell my kids you work, you’re entitled to things. You take care of yourself, you’re entitled to things,” she said. “So, I never thought I would be in a situation like this. It shocks me sometimes.”

When asked why she doesn’t get assistance, Woods responded that she doesn’t qualify for assistance.

“So, you make too much money to qualify for assistance, but you don’t make enough money to be able to save to get somewhere else to live,” she said. “I’m in that middle area, that gray area I had a hard time seeing. All my life everything’s been black or white for me. You work, you get paid. You don’t work, you don’t get paid. There was no middle. Now I see the middle because I’m the gray. I’m the one that’s in that shady area that no one really wants to acknowledge is there.”

Owen Russell with daughter, Martin County residents impacted by homelessness
Owen Russell of Martin County has a full-time job, but he and his daughter are moving from church to church for housing.

Across the coast in Martin County, Owen Russell and his 17-year-old daughter just moved to a Jensen Beach church where they’ll stay for two weeks.

“Every two weeks we pack ourselves up and go to the next church,” he said. Before they church hopped, they spent months couch surfing and nights in the car.

“It feels terrible, terrible. I’m a single father, and I’ve raised my daughter since she was a year-and-a-half old by myself,” Russell said. “I’ve always been there for her and have been able to provide for her.”

But that changed last summer when their landlord passed away. The family decided to sell the place where he was living. Russell said they had 10 days to move out.

“Ten days, that was it,” he said.

Russell is a transportation provider for non-emergency patients. He describes it as a “good job.”

But, with rental prices up 20-30% since last year in Martin County, Russell said his income isn’t good enough to land them in a place they can call their own.

He said he’s had landlords tell him one price, then raise the price before he could move in.

The lack of affordable housing in Florida is a widely known statewide problem.

“When they say they’re building homes for middle-class families, I go to apply and I say, ‘Who’s able to afford this?'” Russell asked.

Madeleine Bozone-Greenwood, executive director of Family Promises of Martin County
Madeleine Bozone-Greenwood says many families are not eligible for housing assistance since they make too much money, calling it “families in the gap.”

In Martin County, some housing the county calls “workforce” housing is going for $2,000 to $3,000, per month, explains Madeleine Bozone-Greenwood, the executive director of Family Promises of Martin County.

The organization is part of a leading national nonprofit dedicated to helping families who are experiencing homelessness or facing the prospects of becoming homeless.

Bozone-Greenwood calls families like the Russells and the Woods “families in the gap.”

“I’m finding there are more families now, they make too much too much to qualify for a government subsidy but too little for the market rent, so these are our workforce that are in the gap,” she explained.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the feds have poured hundreds of millions of pandemic relief dollars into state and local coffers to help people struggling to pay their rent or mortgage.

In 2021, an additional $85 million was allocated to Florida, specifically, to help prevent homelessness.

But Bozone-Greenwood said without changing who gets priority and increasing income eligibility requirements for assistance, more families will continue to fall in the “gap.”

“We have to help families making higher incomes. These are families, that even though their income isn’t as low as what the definition was, they still need the help,” she said.

Russell is now weighing the option of moving across state lines into Georgia.

“There’s no place for me to live in the state that I was born. I’m a Floridian boy, and there’s no place for me here,” he said.

Woods plans to stay put.

“There’s this stereotype you’re single, you have kids, you must be on welfare,” Woods said. “Nope, I get up every day and go to my job,” she said. “I’m an accountant. I’m already working, and I’m already productive.”

July will mark one year that she and her kids have been in the same Tampa hotel. It’s an anniversary this mom would like nothing more than to miss.

“I don’t want anybody’s sympathy. I don’t want anyone to take care of me. I will take care of us,” Wood said. “I just want an opportunity to get a place that’s decent, that’s affordable and that my kids don’t have to be afraid to come out and play. That’s all I want.”

What is Climate Justice? Why do we care?

Rising temperatures, increasing frequency and severity of storms, fires, and floods, rising sea
levels, air pollution – these phenomena, strung together paint a hellscape that ought to
mobilize us all, yet we live in perpetual denial. Life is busy, and for now it goes on. There is little doubt among most, that climate change is an imminent threat to our world as we know it, but what we don’t hear enough talk of is who it will harm most, and how soon. Communities of
color, and low-income regions already face the realities of climate change – a trend that will
only continue to worsen. Climate justice is a concept that addresses the ethical and civil rights
aspect of climate change, through advocacy, research, and policy. Many of the approaches
needed are costly, but none near as costly as failing to address disaster before it hits.

Extreme Heat
Extreme temperatures have been an obvious outcome of climate change already. In the
north, that has meant devastatingly cold winters with polar vortexes, power outages, and
preventable deaths. In the south, it has meant the opposite. The past 7 years have all placed
within the top seven hottest years on record. Miami now sees an average of 133 high heat
days, 27 more than was average in 1995. This is expected to continue to rise. Extreme heat has
contributed to 12,000 deaths per year in the U.S. from 2010-2020. The National Weather
Service reports that extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. Health
risks of extreme heat include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death. It can also
exacerbate existing conditions.

Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of these public health impacts. The average
temperature can vary drastically based upon zip codes due to factors such as less tree cover
and more heat-absorbing concrete. In Miami’s lower income, mostly Black and Latino
neighborhoods like Little Haiti, Little Havana and Liberty City, tree cover can be as little as 10%,
compared to around 40% in upscale coastal areas. In the first image below (Left), dark green is
healthy vegetation and light green to white are more urban areas with depleted to no
vegetation. These less green areas correspond to hotter temperatures (Right).

Further, these lower-income areas have insufficient infrastructure to handle heat
emergencies. In what is now America’s least affordable housing market, the high cost of
running air-conditioning forces people to choose how often they can afford to even run the air
conditioning, and when they need to face the heat to cut costs. People living under the poverty
line are 50% more likely to experience the effects of heat islands than those of higher income
urban areas. Fill out this survey to help document these rising temperatures.
Miami has recently created a Climate and Heat Health Task Force and appointed a Chief
Heat Officer, working to address these disparities that predominantly impact minorities. There
is much that needs to be done to address this root issue, but is a vital step in the right direction.

The Miami Foundation has released a Miami-Dade Extreme Heat Toolkit, which further outlines
the catastrophic heat trends we are seeing here in Miami, as well as critical steps that need to
be taken to assuage the threat our high temperatures impose on at risk populations. MCARE
stands behind these recommendations in strong support. They include but are not limited to
measures that increase green spaces and playgrounds. Shade for bus stops is also vital for those who rely in public transit to commute. We need to set a statewide standard for outdoor
workers to receive adequate water, shade and rest. Additionally, implementation of cooling
centers, a cool site, or airconditioned building designated as a safe location during extreme
heat, is a common strategy that Miami also needs to implement for the safety of our high-risk

Storms and Hurricanes
Climate change has already led to an increase in frequency and severity of hurricanes, as
well as a longer hurricane season overall. It is predicted that around a million Miami-Dade
residents are a bad storm away from upheaval and houselessness. About a third of houses build before 1990 are at high risk for wind damage, mold, or even complete destruction. 70% of the counties ~1,000,000 single family homes, condos and townhomes were built before 1990, after which stricter building codes were implemented. These, of course, are houses inhabited by Miami’s lowest income, predominantly Black and Hispanic residents. These most vulnerable
neighborhoods include some of the counties lowest income, such as Little Haiti, Overtown,
Liberty City, Homestead, Opa-Locka, west Coconut Grove and North Miami.

We need to take preventative action to fortify this infrastructure and protect its
inhabitants from this destruction. Miami Homes for All has projected that the current shortage
of 121,820 units affordable and available to households earning less than $35,000 a year will
expand to 160,460 units by 2030. As housing costs in Miami rise at an uncontrolled rate, we
cannot afford to loss any of our affordable homes to natural disaster. We also need to focus
more funding and attention towards disaster response readiness and emergency shelter
availability ahead of a forecast storm.

Through our Climate Justice Campaign, we aim to raise awareness and advocate for these
critical issues. We aim to make our stance clear: Climate change poses a critical and immediate
threat to society, and it will disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic people of low income.
We will achieve this through several approaches:

  • We will publish opinion pieces in news outlets to increase awareness of relevant issues
    on this topic
  • We will actively support or oppose relevant local and national policies
  • We will work alongside local advocates as a coalition to push for actionable steps to
    address these issues highlighted above (Including but not limited to- increased green
    spaces & tree cover, cooling centers, protections for outdoor workers, disaster
    readiness & hurricane shelter preparedness, expand affordable housing and existing
    affordable housing fortification etc.)

Dangerous ‘extreme heat’ days to multiply inSouth Florida, study finds. Who is at risk?

Yes, it’s already very hot in Miami-Dade County. But if climate change continues
unabated, South Florida could go from steamy to scorching, adding an extra month
of “extreme heat” days by mid-century.

That kind of extreme heat makes it hard to work — or live — outside and can sicken
or even kill people, particularly outdoor laborers, the poor and the elderly. That’s a
problem for Miami-Dade, which has more than 100,000 outdoor workers, the most in
the state. It also will make cooling homes, buildings and cars pricier.
A report released Monday from the nonprofit climate research group First Street
Foundation found that Miami-Dade leads the nation as the county that could see the
sharpest increase in dangerous hot days over the next 30 years, when the U.S. could
be an average of 3 degrees hotter.

The southeast, including Florida, is likely to see much higher temperatures more
frequently. That means extra weeks of the year where temperatures top 100 — or
even higher.

“It’s getting warmer there, and while it’s easy to say ’it’s already hot here,’ the
exposure to more dangerous days is what dominated the story in our report,” said
Jeremy Porter, First Street’s chief research officer.

The First Street report found that South Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward
and Palm Beach, could see about 40 extra days a year where the heat index is over
100 degrees Fahrenheit. The region gets about 50 a year now. Heat index — also
known as the “feels like” temperature — factors in humidity with temperature.
These findings mirror previous studies’ projections of what global warming could
feel like for South Florida, a warning that pushed Miami-Dade to hire its first-ever
Chief Heat Officer, set up an extreme heat task force and conduct a heat
vulnerability study.
“It reinforces what we’re already planning for,” said Jane Gilbert, the county’s chief
heat officer. “The quality of life in Miami-Dade County in 30 years is highly
dependent on how globally we’re able to control greenhouse gas emissions. It’s
imperative that as a county and a state we are leaders on greenhouse gas emissions


That vulnerability report, published earlier this summer, is already guiding
investments. Researchers found that Miami-Dade has an average of 58 hospitalizations and 301
emergency department visits a year for heat-related illnesses. Deaths are harder to
count. In the five-year span, only two death certificates listed extreme heat as the
first cause of death.

Christopher Uejio, an associate professor at Florida State University and lead author
of the analysis, said that’s both because medical examiners have a high bar for
counting heat as the main cause of death and because “heat exacerbates such a long
list of health conditions that it’s hard to tease it out.”
In the analysis, researchers found that changing that standard to include all illnesses
that extreme heat would have worsened brought the total to 34 deaths a year.
As the county warms, those deaths increased. Every ten-degree increase in the heat
index led to an additional death a day, the study found.

“Without further adaptation, we could expect heat-related illnesses and deaths to
increase,” Uejio said.

From there, researchers took the risk factors for heat-related illness and death —
like poverty, whether people work outside or live in mobile homes or if they have
children — and mapped it out across the county.

The zip codes with the highest risk were in South Dade, Miami Gardens and the
Allapattah area.
Gilbert, the county’s heat czar, said she’s targeting these areas for tree planting and
preservation to keep them cool, and they’re first in line for the 360 new shaded bus
shelters the county is installing this summer.
They’re also the focus of the county’s heat season campaign of public service
announcements, billboards and presentations.

“We used the vulnerability assessment to focus our investments in boosting the
videos and social media posts and bus shelter ads in zip codes with the highest rate
of heat-related hospitalizations,” Gilbert said. “We’ve reached over a million
residents already in our campaign and we’re continuing at it.”


While researchers looked at a long list of factors that increase someone’s risk of
experiencing extreme heat, it boils down to two things: spending a lot of time
outside, usually while working, or living somewhere that isn’t properly cooled.

Miami-Dade has more outdoor workers than anywhere in the state, but there are no
laws at the state, national or local levels to protect them from heat stress.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been slowly turning its
set of recommendations about offering laborers water, rest and shade into laws, a
multi-year process. In Florida, a bill that only recommended employers consider
offering some protections against heat stress (with no penalties for not doing so)
died after a single committee hearing, where it won unanimous, bipartisan

Miami-Dade is looking into proposing its own policy, Gilbert said. “We’re going to get the strongest possible policy that we can pass and hold. We have
to hope it won’t get pre-empted,” she said.

The other side of the equation is housing. Most apartments, condos and homes in
South Florida include air conditioning units, although it’s not standard in federally
subsidized housing. But running the AC is expensive, and as the cost of energy rises,
cash-strapped households often cut down on cooling to lower their bills.

One solution from the county is cooling centers or heat shelters. These are public
spots, usually community centers, parks and libraries, where residents can come
chill out during the hottest points of the day.

Ladd Keith, a University of Arizona Assistant Professor of Planning and Sustainable
Built Environments, said that these are helpful, but they don’t get at the real
problem of overheated housing.

“If the temperatures are still elevated in the evening, you’re essentially sending
those individuals back to unsafe conditions,” he said. “The root cause is we need
everyone to have a safe home to live in. The reason we need cooling centers in the
first place is we need everybody to have a safe place to live.”


If there is good news for Florida, heat waves and extreme temperatures aren’t as
common as they are in the western U.S. because of the cooling effects of the nearby
Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

“There’s almost a ceiling, a physical limit to how hot it can get because of the water,”
Porter said. “But there are a few places in Florida and along the Atlantic coast where
that protective effect is starting to diminish because sea surface temperatures are

Florida’s brand of heat risk can be more difficult to warn people about. It’s easier to
sound the alarm for a three-week heat wave or a two-day temperature spike than simply saying the whole summer will be sweltering.

Eyeing the potential health impacts of heat, Miami-Dade started announcing an
official heat season, which runs from May through October. It’s one more way to
warn residents about the kind of risk they face, since the threshold for a warning
from the National Weather Service is so high — a heat index of 108 degrees.

That doesn’t happen often. By the calculations in the First Street report, Miami-Dade
hit that figure zero times this year, and after another 30 years of warming, it’s
projected to hit that number just three times a year.

To solve that, Gilbert and the county worked with the local NWS office to come up
with lower thresholds to warn residents about heat risk. At a heat index of 103, the
NWS now talks about taking “extreme caution” in the heat in its forecasts.
“I think the NWS has always wanted to be mindful of not having to issue a heat
advisory or heat warning too often because people might disregard it,” she said. “It
currently shows that we have room to issue these kinds of advisories and still get
people’s attention.”

Criminalization of Homelessness is Racially Discriminatory, Must be Abolished, Say UN Human Rights Experts

Also Calls for “All Necessary Measures to Eliminate Segregation”

 “The UN Report makes clear that criminalizing homelessness increases racial inequities, making it harder for unhoused persons to escape the trauma of homelessness.”  ~  David Peery


August 30, 2022

Media Contact: Erika Lopez

(202)638-2535 x110 |

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND- The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva yesterday stated “it remains concerned at the increasing number of state and local laws that criminalize homelessness and at the disproportionately high number of persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities affected by homelessness,” and called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action, following a hearing earlier this month.

Using its strongest language, the Committee, which issued similar concerns during the U.S.’s last review in 2014, further “reiterates its recommendation that the [U.S.] abolish laws and policies that criminalize homelessness; implement strong financial and legal incentives to decriminalize homelessness, including by conditioning or withdrawing funding from state and local authorities that criminalize homelessness and encourage them to redirect funding from criminal justice responses to adequate housing and shelter programs, in particular for persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities most affected by homelessness.”

The Committee’s statement is part of its Concluding Observations, following a two day review earlier this month of U.S. government compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994. The National Homelessness Law Center (“NHLC”), which submitted a report to the Committee in partnership with the University of Miami School of Law International Human Rights Clinic, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Partners for Dignity and Rights, Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, and the South Florida Community Development Coalition, as part of the review process, applauded the Committee’s findings.

“The U.N. was clear today: criminalizing homelessness is racially discriminatory, violates the human rights obligations we have to our citizens, and it needs to end, now,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at NHLC. “States like Tennessee, who just made it a felony to camp on public lands, despite the lack of adequate, affordable housing, and Missouri, passing a template bill criminalizing camping and taking funds away from permanent housing to put it toward internment camps for homeless persons, are giving the U.S.’s reputation a black eye abroad and perpetuating discriminatory impacts at home.”

David Peery, Executive Director of Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity (MCARE) adds, “The UN Report makes clear that criminalizing homelessness increases racial inequities, making it harder for unhoused persons to escape the trauma of homelessness. We ask that Miami abandon its plan to deport our homeless residents to an isolated island. Instead, we should use our city’s resources to provide permanent supportive housing to the victims of intergenerational poverty and racism who are condemned to live on our city’s streets.”

Recognizing that the disparate racial impact of homelessness comes from “the high degree of residential racial segregation; the persistence of discrimination in access to housing … and the intersection with disability and gender identity; … and criminal records policies which can lead to homelessness,” the Committee also reiterated recommendations to increase enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, including obligations to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing, and urged the U.S. to “adopt all necessary measures to eliminate residential segregation, including by addressing the impact of exclusionary zoning and land use laws and practices that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities.”

“The UN Committee has underscored how criminalizing and punishing homelessness has racially discriminatory impacts and contradicts human rights standards,” said Tamar Ezer, the Acting Director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. “It is time for the U.S. to abandon these counterproductive polices and invest in real solutions, recognizing the human right to housing, including protection against forced eviction and the availability of housing that is affordable, habitable, accessible, well-located, and culturally adequate.”

The U.S. is required to submit its next report on compliance with the treaty by November 2025. The Law Center and other organizations will hold a Congressional briefing on the Committee’s recommendations in the fall and work with other government agencies to implement them.


The National Homelessness Law Center (The Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk
through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education.

Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity (MCARE) seeks to dismantle systemic racism that leads to homelessness, lack of access to healthcare and voter suppression in Florida. By focusing our strategies on the most vulnerable, marginalized persons, we lift the floor of social services for all, and we celebrate the
rich diversity of our community. Justice for Black Americans is justice for all Americans.

The Human Rights Clinic (HRC), part of Miami Law’s Human Rights Program, works for the promotion of social and economic justice globally and in the U.S. Students gain firsthand experience in cutting-edge human rights litigation and advocacy at the local, national, regional, and international levels.