Sunday, June 26, 2016

Illegal Theft of Homeless Property Continues. Who's Responsible?


Wedding Preparations at Stranahan Gazebo, 6.25.16
For months, the City of Fort Lauderdale has been attempting to clean up Stranahan Park by confiscating homeless people's belongings. Enforcement of the "storage ban," one of Fort Lauderdale's original "Homeless Hate Laws" from 2014, has so far been impossible, worsening the stalemate in downtown.

Perhaps the most effective way the City has been able to get rid of homeless people's belongings has been to use upcoming events at the Women's Club to declare that "clean-ups" are necessary and to clear the area for pressure cleaning.

This has been happening more and more lately, and this week Parks and Recreation came and stole homeless people's property, seemingly on the behalf of the Women's Club of Fort Lauderdale.

Now, the storage ban law does allow for untagged items to be removed if an area clean-up is going on, but they are required to give 36 hours notice. Residents of the sidewalk area were given 2 hours notice on Friday and then City employees came and threw the possessions of about 6 people into a truck and left. Supposedly these items are in the FLPD's "storage ban" location but since they are only open on week-days, no one has been able to confirm or get their things back yet.

Food Not Bombs has already been bringing blankets and clothes downtown to replace what was taken, and also intends to make trips to FLPD headquarters to track down what was taken and get it back on Monday. If anyone wants to help with this effort, blankets are needed anytime, and we'll be trying to organize rides to the police station for those that want their things back.

Who is Responsible?

As we have seen over the past few months, the FLPD does not seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for enforcing the sharing ban. Although City Attorney Lee Feldman is certainly having a part in ordering the FLPD to enforce these laws, he is also almost certainly aware that Los Angeles's "storage bans" resulted in expensive, high-profile legal losses and a drawn-out attempt to revise these laws to make them enforceable.

The Women's Club of Fort Lauderdale has been the main advocate for anti-homeless measures around Stranahan for years. They spent a quarter of a million dollars to get them out of the Park, they encouraged another 25 grand to be spent on anti-panhandling signs, and they supported each and every Homeless Hate Law when the City passed them. Now they seem to be side-stepping the City's legal responsibility to protect the rights of the homeless in order to make things look nice for the weddings they are booking in the Park, which is, by the way, still public property and not their's at all.

Replacing what was taken, 6.25.16
While "responsibility" is a bit hard to establish in a City where the wealthy are always conveniently unaccountable for just about anything, the Women's Club's history of actions and words about the homeless could be described as "reprehensible." The press has not exactly helped in that respect. And  this is not the first time where they seem to have encouraged City employees to violate the rights of the homeless in order for them to profit off the use of public property. The more the Women's Club books the very events they've been saying they need to chase the homeless away for, the more excuses it seems to provide for further abuse of the homeless.

Another entity bearing some responsibility, or lack there-of, for this quagmire, is the Broward County Continuum of Care Board, which as we've previously described, has a bit of a problem getting much done. The CoC has been keenly aware of the storage ban problems for some time, but June makes the third monthly meeting of the Board in a row where no meaningful action was taken. They have set up a committee to explore solutions to Stranahan Park, but couldn't decide on when it would meet.

The PONG (Performance Outcome/Needs Gap) Committee, which is supposed to work on homeless services that are not being provided, hasn't met since April. At the time of this writing, no one from the Continuum of Care Board can explain why, even as they have been quick to push responsibility from themselves to this Committee when it comes to urgent problems in downtown.

Theoretically, these County homeless services could simply propose to the County Commission to get some lockers donated and have them set up at the Library or any of a number of other County properties downtown, like parking garages or even at the shelters. None of these things seem to be happening anytime soon, no one in power seems particularly motivated to actually provide these services.

We'll let everyone know how attempts to recover homeless people's possessions from the FLPD go tomorrow, assuming anything is even there to recover.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Storage Ban Returns to Stranahan

2 months after their first attempt, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department again announced their intent to confiscate the belongings of the homeless people who live on the sidewalk along Stranahan Park on Friday morning. If their notices are to be believed, about 15-20 or so items are marked to be confiscated sometime on Saturday.

When this happened in April, most of the marked items were replaced and advocates for the homeless kept on eye on the situation for most of the day. Police ultimately took no action. It is unclear how the FLPD intends on enforcing this law on Saturday; no FLPD officers were apparent in the area Friday afternoon and we're way past press time.

One thing that's certain is that it certainly couldn't hurt to bring some new containers to people there again and attempt to once again negate this problem. In the past two months, the City and County have failed to intervene in any meaningful way and this problem has dragged on into Summer. For now, mutual aid and solidarity will have to prevent continued enforcement of this homeless hate law.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Breaking - Fort Lauderdale Misspent Half of HUD Funds for Sole Housing Project

Tucked into this week's Fort Lauderdale City Commission Agenda is CM5, "Motion to Approve Payment to Broward County in Response to Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General Audit Findings of the Chronic Homeless Housing Collaborative Program - $42,669.99"

The item's description shows that a recent HUD audit of the City's only federally funded housing program misspent $274,206 of its total funding, which in 2015 was about $450,000. The City is already voting to pay back $42,000 as suggested by the federal audit.

Documents regarding this situation can be found here.

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.