Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Homeless Board Members Suggests Major Changes to Confront Bad Policy

While police enforcement of anti-homeless criminal ordinances in Fort Lauderdale is well-known, few concern themselves with the entities who are actually in charge of homeless policy for the area. For Broward County, that entity is technically the Broward County Commission. It is advised by the Broward County Continuum of Care Board, which meets once a month to talk about cooperative projects for homeless welfare. It consists of various groups such as the Broward Homeless Initiative Partnership (HIP), Hope South Florida, Broward Outreach Center, and others.

FLPD officer at last month's
"storage ban" debacle
The CoC's bureaucracy and avoidance of major homeless issues in its jurisdiction is, to most spectators, bewildering. However, this month's convening of Board Members on May 25th brought some unusual moments of clarity, in part spurred by recent events. 

The last monthly meeting of CoC took place not long after the Stranahan storage ban incident. Board members described something of a scramble to do something to discourage the city from going through with this effort. (Worth noting: City Commissioner Dean Trantalis was absent from this month's meeting.) However, on-the-ground advocates, including this blog, effectively stopped confiscations before they could begin. 

The CoC is under pressure since last fall's announcement that HUD fund recipients would be required from now on to report what their organization is doing to de-criminalize homelessness. The storage ban seems to be a "hard to ignore" moment for the Board, resulting in a meeting topic this month dedicated to the issue of "Alternative Solutions to the Criminalization of Homelessness." 

Many services that been long neglected came up, from storage facilities to showers and bathrooms to providing proper discharge aid for homeless people getting out of Broward County Jail. During the hour or so of discussion, several board members raised a point that is severely overlooked when it comes to Fort Lauderdale's meandering commitment to providing homeless services. The Continuum of Care actually doubles as the County's designated homeless advocacy entity, or "local coalition." However, because it is required to report to the County and is subject to Sunshine Law restrictions, they essentially cannot advocate anything to anyone except by passing on their wishes to the Broward County Commission. They essentially cannot even say anything directly, as an entity, to the cities that are criminalizing homelessness in their county.

As one Board Member put it "...when issues require the local designated coalition to take up what almost every coalition across the nation handle, and that's advocacy, that's being able to speak to commissions...on behalf of the homeless...we are not able to do so because of this forum."

In this way, the CoC effectively argues it is obstructing itself from doing its job. The unusual soul searching taking place was followed up by the Board's counsel making an interesting observation; Broward County boards are, in fact, reviewed every 5 years, and the CoC is due for theirs' sometime in the next month or so. 

Does the Broward County Commission need to review its mandate for homeless services to create a entity, distinct from what exists now, to be the County's "local coalition," and handle homeless advocacy work for the disprivileged? A few CoC board members seemed to think so. As one put it, "I cannot in good faith say that we are doing anything about the criminalization of homelessness...the federal government expects us to do something about it."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Confusion, Fear, and Displacement

Here's an update from what's going on downtown from earlier in the week. Although BSO is indeed patrolling Broward Central Terminal, they have not taken over at the library (so far).

So far, it does not appear that BSO is taking a friendlier approach to homeless people in the terminal...if anything, its the opposite. Many people could be observed on Thursday being chased out of the terminal by BSO officers for "loitering."

Another development is that County outreach staff have been coming to the Stranahan area offering Rapid Re-Housing services. This is actually great news...and yet is a bit strange as there is very little money for this fund and little if any of it is usually allocated to the chronically homeless in the area who do not have children, aren't vets, etc. So, another as-yet unresolved mystery.

So far, no County, City, or police officials or spokespeople have clarified anything written earlier in the week or anything new posted here today. There are no press releases or new stories, save what is written here, and the word on the street.

The murkiness has led a lot of confusion and fear downtown. Many other unconnected occurrences have given the false impression that there's even worse things afoot. After the pressure-washing of the Stranahan sidewalk earlier in the week, the pay meters along that street were bagged off on Thursday. However it turned out the reason for that was that a car commercial that was shooting on that street...still, without any meaningful communication from anyone in the know, it created yet another strong impression that the sidewalks were being rolled up. There was also a meeting at the Women's Club on Thursday about traffic patterns that led to even more speculation that City fat cats were plotting still more attacks on the people downtown.

Really, this is just a glimpse of what it's like to be homeless downtown...nobody tells you shit. No matter what people are planning right next to these people's beds, they are almost never seen as human enough to extend the same courtesy that the wealthy people of Fort Lauderdale are sure to give to one another.

In spite of all this, there are some dark days going on downtown, with displacement being the name of the game. Placing homeless people in services is always right, but when the true goal, the true motive, is to achieve the impossible by permanently clearing the streets of Fort Lauderdale...public scrutiny and discourse is always necessary.
We urge everyone to keep their eyes the ongoings of downtown Fort Lauderdale...when we get more news, we will pass it on.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A New Sheriff in Downtown? And Other Mysteries

Many strange things are occurring in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and at this time we don't have many answers.

First off, the biggest change is that Broward Sheriff's Office seems to have taken over policing for Broward Central Terminal and Broward Main Library. FLPD is still policing everywhere else, even right up to the property line between Stranahan Park and the Library.

Why? So far, this is unclear, and no one we've asked so far is providing answers. Is the FLPD being removed from handling some of the areas most frequented by homeless people downtown due to their bad behavior? What does BSO intend to do differently here? 

BSO at Broward Central Terminal, 5.16.2016
The mixed signals only get better from here, because at the same time the FLPD has been busy in many other places. Residents of the sidewalk in front of Stranahan Park, who just weeks ago were subjected to a half-hearted, bureaucratic attempt to take their possessions, were subjected to a much less complicated and successful attempt at displacement today. The City declared that the sidewalk needed to be pressure washed and that everyone had to move their things. Several also reported that the police also told them they would only be allowed to move their possessions back only if it was 2 small bags. It certainly seems a lot simpler and effective than using the city's "scarlet sticker" storage ban law. Still, the temporary move seems to be a peaceful transition for the being.

How or why City employees are trying to apply airline-esque baggage restrictions on homeless people that are living in that area is also, at this time, unclear.

FLPD's behavior is also not limited to the sidewalk. This week police have also suddenly started rousting homeless people from bus benches on Broward Boulevard, and have sharply increased profiling for panhandling and jaywalking in the same area. 

How and why are all these things happening at the same time? This too is unclear, but we hope for more updates tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Storage Ban Resistance Recap

Response since we first broke this story Monday night has been swift. Within a couple hours, homeless advocates and supporters began bringing tubs & suitcases to Stranahan Park. By early afternoon, all but 3 bags that could not be identified, were replaced. It was great effort by everyone and the people of Stranahan were very happy to see so much help coming to resolve this situation. If only it were like this every day.
Dean Trantalis, city commissioner,
and Marshall Schnipper, homeless advocate

Homeless advocates and camera crews stood by the entire day, but no confiscations took place. It would seem the amount of scrutiny these stickers created have, at least for now, dissuaded the enforcement of the sharing ban. Channel 10 even interviewed some homeless people about it. Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis also stopped by to see what was going on. The police were quoted by the news as saying something about how cleaning up debris is an important social service or something, but anyway they largely kept their non-confrontational approach on Tuesday.

Public reaction over the last couple of years has really been all-or-nothing; there was very little outrage when this law passed 2 years ago. But, it was never enforced, and enforcement of many of the other 2014 laws has been difficult to gauge. Trespassing, camping, and panhandling enforcement have all been increased in the last few years and easily create some of the worst suffering in downtown Fort Lauderdale. However these homeless policing activities rarely face much public scorn or scrutiny. 
We are actually still receiving interest from supporters about bringing more containers to the Park. While it seems like the confiscation threat is over for the immediate future, please be assured that any such donations would be readily accepted by people living around Stranahan Park at any time. Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs would also be happy to handle any such requests.

Monday, April 18, 2016

FLPD Announces Stranahan Homeless Property Seizures

 After a 2 year lull, the City of Fort Lauderdale appears to be finally be enforcing the "storage ban" it introduced in 2014 along with a slew of other anti-homeless laws. Homeless people who stay on the sidewalk in front of Stranahan Park were informed today that their property is to be confiscated under this law some time tomorrow.

The law says that these possessions will be put into storage at the FLPD headquarters and that homeless people have 30 days to come and reclaim them. As far as anyone knows, this law has never been enforced until today, and now only against the people of Stranahan Park. Rarely has so many laws been created against people in such a small geographic location....

Tensions were still high today at the park over this sudden announcement, with several people complaining about how, already burdened with medical problems and no transportation, they also expected to walk several miles to get their stuff back in the next few days. Many people were still sitting next to their marked belongings. One homeless man was seen debating a FLPD officer who was driving by at the time. Most said that they had spoken at length with an FLPD officer earlier in the day, who informed them what to expect, which was that if any of the marked trash bags on the sidewalk were not removed, they would be confiscated, perhaps as early as tomorrow morning.

Although the conversation was reported as amicable, the majority of the people on the street seemed very upset about this. One struggles to find the potential benefits to the enforcement of this law compared to the suffering created by separating a poverty-stricken person from their only possessions. One person said that someone from the Ft Lauderdale Women's Club had been complaining loudly recently about the amount of things being stored along the fence of Stranahan.

Another man had another perspective: "Our greatest enemy is the police."

Monday, March 28, 2016

Whacky 2018 Election News

Although the 2015 Fort Lauderdale general election resulted in a landslide for incumbent City Commissioners, 2018 sees most seats, including the Mayor's, open for the first time in years. Amazingly, Fort Lauderdale's political establishment has already started the election countdown. On Sunday, at 3 pm, the first Meet the Candidates event of the 2018 election takes place. 

Current Commissioner (and former FLPD police chief) Bruce Roberts, ex commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom, and occasional past Mayoral candidate Jim Lewis have already announced their runs to replace Mayor Seiler. During their tenure, Roberts and Rodstrom voted in lockstep with the City on anti-homeless laws, although Rodstrom left long before the 2014 laws were introduced. District 4, Romney Roger's district, also has a blue-blooded member of the political establishment announcing an early candidacy in Walter Duke, formerly a commissioner for Dania Beach. Clearly the political establishment is working way ahead of time to make sure the status quo remains unshaken in the years ahead. So far, one other outsider has announced their candidacy as well. Hunter Altschul, a young college student, is running against Duke for District 4. All these candidates along with (as advertised) Mayor Jack Seiler and Commissioner Dean Trantalis will be at the Annie Beck House, 1329 N. Dixie Highway, this Sunday, April 3rd, at 3 pm.

We look forward to seeing how the political future of Fort Lauderdale will effect homelessness in downtown.

Fear & Loathing in Fort Lauderdale

Not to go unmentioned, the Sun Sentinel wrote a pretty extensive story recently on the ongoings of Stranahan Park.  Focusing entirely on quotes given by Mayor Seiler and the President of the Fort Lauderdale Women's Club, the result is an insulting hit piece on the people who are stuck living in the area around Stranahan Park, who are continuously re-victimized as undesirable "problems" by their wealthy commercial neighbors.

While the story stretches to claim some bent fences and dead fish as news, it entirely omits the newsworthy fact that the area for homeless people to occupy around Stranahan Park has rapidly dwindled in the past year. More and more people and their possessions are packed on 1st next to the park, and it is indeed curious for a news story like this to come out that so thoroughly repackages the narrative of this ongoing crisis.

As we have been reminding people for awhile now, privileged individuals have been complaining and divising schemes to displace undesirable people from Stranahan Park for perhaps 50 years or more. Not much has changed.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

No End in Sight for Prosecution of Rebel Food Sharers

In November 2014, a handful of activists and homeless advocates were infamously arrested or ticketed for sharing food with the homeless.

While outrage over this issue has waned over time, at least 4 of the people ticketed at Food Not Bombs sharings in 2014 have been stuck in courtroom purgatory for 16 months as the City refuses to either drop their cases or bring them to trial. Defendants have experienced a never-ending series of status hearings that go nowhere, or no updates or calendar dates whatsoever for their cases, which held a maximum punishment of a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.

The City of Fort Lauderdale still has a resource page on its website to remind everyone how fair and necessary the sharing ban law is. But there is little explanation online, or in the courthouse, for why people who were arbitrarily punished for sharing food with the indigent in November of 2014 still have to retain legal representation and worry about how many more months, or years, they will have to wait until they get a day in court.

The sharing ban law, along with so many other City Municipal codes that target homeless activities, has always been, and still is, unfair. By contrast, the last Florida Congressional elections took place the same week as these arrests, and their terms are nearly up while these minor civil infractions drag on.

Price Tag Solution
On a related note, the Sun Sentinel published a story today, extensively quoting Mayor Seiler and other public officials, claiming that $11 million dollars is all that is missing for Broward County to permanently take care of all the homeless. If this sounds ridiculous to anyone than you haven't spent nearly enough time with anyone involved in the Broward County Continuum of Care Board, which is eternally convinced that massive government spending is all that is needed to help homeless people. True to the standards by which the media has covered homeless issues in the area, this 1,000 word essay is composed entirely of quotes by individuals whose job and reputation depends on painting a cheery picture on homelessness in the area.

No homeless people were quoted. Solutions such as opening the thousands of empty buildings in the County do not exist in this appraisal. Mayor Seiler is quoted as saying he will "consider" this funding, of which Fort Lauderdale would pay about $500k/year.