Law Causes Many Former Offenders to Become Homeless
October 23, 2014
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MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida filed suit against Miami-Dade County and the Florida Department of Corrections, seeking a permanent injunction against a housing ordinance that is extraordinarily difficult for former sex offenders to follow without becoming homeless. The law prohibits former offenders from living 2,500 feet (almost half a mile) from any building the county labels a "school," a category the county has enforced arbitrarily since the ordinance went into effect in 2010. This restriction has left about fifty former offenders with nowhere to live other than an outdoor area along railroad tracks on the outskirts of Miami-Dade county. Each night, they sleep in chairs, in tents, and under tarps, without running water or shelter from the weather.
"As public policy, the Miami-Dade ordinance is a disaster. It has created a homeless population living outdoors in squalor, while doing nothing to serve public safety," said Brandon Buskey, Staff Attorney at the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project. "Disease, exposure to the elements, no drinkable water—these conditions make it extremely difficult to find and maintain stable employment and psychological treatment, which are the only two factors proven to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. We know from decades of research that housing restrictions like Miami-Dade's have no impact on reoffending and, are more likely to increase it."
Finding affordable housing for former offenders is so futile under the Miami-Dade ordinance that probation officers routinely direct supervisees to the railroad tracks, recording the tracks as the person's "address."
"Sending someone just out of jail into homelessness makes no sense, not for the person and not for the public. The Miami-Dade ordinance is not just unworkable, it's unconstitutional," said Nancy Abudu, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida.
For years, county officials have shuffled former offenders around Miami-Dade. Officials broke up the infamous shantytown under the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge in 2010, only to create another, lesser known encampment in the Miami neighborhood of Shorecrest. Since officials disbanded that tent city, the area by Miami's railroad tracks has become the only possible location for scores of individuals.
The ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter has assisted in this case.
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