Readers may recall an angry anguished posting of mine from March, How Can We Tolerate This? recounting policies of Miami-Dade county which forced five released sex offenders to live under a bridge because there was no available housing they were allowed to live in due to rules prohibiting sex offenders to live within 2500 feet of a school — any school. This was followed up with Bridge to Nowhere, reporting that the County had swung into action — and moved the people to a different outdoor location under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
Well, eight months later, not only are they still there, their numbers have grown. Now instead of five we have about twenty who are forced to live rough because they county won't let them live (almost) anywhere else.
The story was picked up by national media outlets, and for a few weeks the bridge was a source of widespread disbelief. Statements were made, resolutions were passed, letters were sent — but nothing changed. Since then, much to the relief of local politicians, no doubt, the situation seems to have quietly faded from public memory.
But the numbers kept growing. More than 30 men have been sent to live here in the intervening months. A few have since left — the majority of them arrested for minor violations of probation, two or three were able to move out, and two have disappeared. But most — as of press time, at least 20 — remain under the bridge, even though many have families willing to house them. Everyone agrees the situation under the Julia Tuttle has become untenable, but so far neither local politicians, nor the courts, nor the state legislature have been willing to do anything about it.
How much of Miami-Dade County, exactly, does the 2,500-foot ordinance cover? Pretty much all of it, according to a map produced by the county and distributed to police and newly released sex offenders. It shows schools in the county — private, charter, and public — each with a colored blob around it representing the 2,500-foot sex-offender no man's land. The blobs cover the map; the only open patches are Miami International Airport, a few farm tracts in the Redland and near the Everglades, and, perhaps ironically, much of the well-to-do town of Pinecrest, which is protected from most sex offenders by property values instead of ordinances. (Sex offenders, like any other kind of felon, overwhelmingly tend to be poor.)
State and local leaders have taken turns abdicating responsibility for the problem of homeless sex offenders — that is, sex offenders made homeless by local law. Politicians have dumped it, whenever possible, back and forth onto one other like a game of hot potato.
There are other places sex offenders can live. On Krome Avenue in Northwest Miami-Dade — past the vacant lots, junkyards, and farms — sits a small, rundown trailer park, inhabited mostly by Mexican families, laborers, and agricultural workers. Three sex offenders are registered as living there. Far from any school, park, playground, or daycare center, the location might seem ideal. Except for one thing: Every day, around 3 p.m., a dozen women gather in front of the park to wait for a dusty yellow school bus to drop off their children. They scream and squirm their way to their mothers' sides and walk away with them, hand in hand.
Asked if the 2,500-foot ordinance is pushing sex offenders into poor communities, [Ron] Book [chair of a county task force that is supposed to be considering the issue] pauses. “I don't have to like it,” he says. “Look, I don't have all the solutions.”
This is not just a Miami problem:
In July, Fort Lauderdale probation officers came up with six different bridges to which they planned to assign sex offenders on a rotational basis.
Let us be really clear on what is happening here: the state — in the form of probation officers — is ordering these released persons to live outdoors, in a squatters camp under the causeway, because there is no other place they can live. Failure to stay there is a probation violation which will have them returned to jail.
This must, by any sense of the law, be cruel and unusual punishment: people are not even allowed to live in the homes they previously inhabited. In some cases the causeway-bound have spouses and own homes, but as a result of this rule they cannot live together.
The county's rule must be unconstitutional. But the wheels of justice grind slowly,
At least two challenges to Miami-Dade's ordinance are already brewing. On November 7, the Public Defender's Office filed a memo in support of a motion to declare the county ordinance unconstitutional and pre-empted by state law. The ACLU is looking into challenging the law as well.
Read the whole thing.