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.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

New Report on Anti-Homeless Laws in Colorado

Studies on homelessness tend to focus on taking censuses and gathering statistics on things like drug addiction. However, one interesting type of analysis is the study of anti-homeless laws.

In 2014, The National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty's study "No Safe Place" collected and compared anti-homeless laws across the country not long before Fort Lauderdale's sharing ban was introduced. Around the same time the National Coalition to End Homelessness also published "Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People In Need."

While it is fair to say that most of the general public did not take notice, it was these methodological studies that made awareness of homeless hate laws through other means, such as attention grabbing headlines, petitions, and memes, possible.

Someone, after all, had to count all these cities that banned sharing food. And its very rare that anyone is collecting data on homelessness in a way that leads to a critical understanding of how governmental agencies are perpetuating poverty.

Last week, law students at the University of Denver, affiliated with the Homeless Advocacy Policy Project, published: "Too High A Price: What Criminalizing The Homeless Costs Colorado." There's a lot of great information in it, and a lot of will sound very familiar.

- Colorado sounds a lot like Florida when it comes to passing laws across numerous local governments. The study found over 350 anti-homeless laws in cities across the state, to an average of 6 per city. In spite of this Denver is still the only city in the state with restrictions on sharing food with the homeless. It seems like almost every city in America has some kind of interest in passing anti-homeless laws.

- Colorado is also not very "liberal" when it comes to enforcement. Despite the fact that cold weather is a deadly danger to homeless people in Colorado, police forces across the state enforce anti-homeless rules that can have deadly consequences for the person cited.

- Colorado, like most other local and state governments, has accepted enormous expenses towards enforcing anti-homeless laws. The study estimated that 6 Colorado cities spent at least $5 million on enforcing these laws over a 5 year period. A comparable study of Florida cities, which has 5x the population of Colorado, would likely make that cost seem small by comparison.

Occupy Denver camp eviction, 2011
- Where ever we look in America, anti-homeless laws are discriminatory, disproportionate, and dystopic:

"...Denver arrested nearly 300 homeless individuals in 2014 for panhandling. Between 2013 and 2014, Denver issued over 2,000
trespass citations to homeless individuals. This represents more than half of all trespass citations in the city even though homeless residents are only 0.05% of the population."

It makes one wonder what Floridians could really learn about the true cost of homelessness across the state. Here's a very simple (and un-academic) example of what that might look like; if we took the number from this 2014 study of homelessness in Central Florida of $31,000 per homeless person per year, and multiplied it by 2014 Point in Time statewide count from the same year, 41,335, we get 1.2 billion dollars.

Locally, Fort Lauderdale runs a massive municipal court system that racks up citations against indigent people at an astonishing rate. By now the City has also racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for defending itself against suits filed against the City for its 2014 food sharing ban law.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

All Saints Soup Kitchen Disrupts Oakland Park City Commission

All Saints' Soup Kitchen has been facing an escalating trend of harassment and enforcement actions against it in the year or so since the City of Oakland Park's attempts to shut it down began doing some real damage. Today, the mission still shares every day inside the church, but its soup kitchen remains closed and the parish complains of a lot of intimidation tactics from Broward Sheriffs' Office.

Wednesday, during Oakland Park City Commission's public comments section, Father Bob Caudill  of All Saints' led a disruption of the meeting  to protest the city's lack of conscience. Most of the city commissioners left the dais during this protest, even as the majority of the people attending the meeting stood in solidarity with Father Bob. See the video:

The fight for All Saint's Soup Kitchen is not quite over yet, so if you haven't already stop by 3460 Powerline Road in Oakland Park to join the fight.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Homeless Fenced Off for 2016

What follows is a survey of some of the commonly used spaces by homeless people downtown. For a long time, the area in the vicinity of Fort Lauderdale City Hall and Broward Central Terminal were occupied by dozens of homeless people, who have very few places to spend their days and even fewer to spend their nights; for many, the parking lots and sidewalks North of Broward Boulevard are all they have.

With the development of "All Aboard Florida" just getting started, virtually every space the homeless people inhabited that was not a piece of sidewalk North of Broward has been roped off in the last few months.

The overhang entrance of the disused building on the NW corner of Andrews & NE 1st Street, directly across the street from City Hall.

A few months ago this empty, disused parking lot on the SW corner of Andrews & NE 1st Street was re-paved, re-planted, and eventually, fenced off. 

The block between City Hall & Broward Central Terminal is mostly parking lot and the old building pictured earlier. Prior to a year or two ago, they were disused and one of the larger spaces homeless people occupied in the area. Fences have gradually chipped away at public access until finally in the last month or so there is nothing left. This was the last space left at NE 1st & Brickell Ave and it now carries a trendy new logo for the upcoming development effort.

On the NE corner of the same block, at NE 2nd St & Andrews Ave, this public parking space has been removed entirely to discourage the homeless people who have slept here over the years. The parking meters have been removed and a fence encloses the lot.
Immediately North is the former "One Stop Shop." The City owns the whole property and claims they are in the process of selling it for redevelopment. Some people want it turned into a new park. It is perhaps one of the only spaces frequented by homeless people in the immediate downtown area that hasn't been fully fenced off.

 On the NW side of the One Stop Shop is "The Tree." Although it hasn't been fenced off, homeless outreach services provided in coordination with the City of Fort Lauderdale at this location were cut over the summer and only a few homeless people spend much time here anymore. So to re-state this, the City demanded that homeless services stop over 6 months ago and absolutely nothing has changed here whatsoever.

This leads us back to the area of Stranahan Park. The Main Library is now a very rare thing in downtown; a public space, that is not a sidewalk, that homeless people are allowed access to during the day. Frequent police patrols targeting the homeless do not make this very friendly. Riverwalk is also accessible, yet there is also private security watching over people in that space as well.
On an average day, only a handful of homeless people (or absolutely anyone, really) can be seen using Stranahan Park. It remains a ghost park most of the year.

In many times over the last few years, the amount of people who spend the day on the sidewalk in front of Stranahan Park has been low. Since the fences went up North of Broward, the amout of people here on the daily has increased a bit. There are now a couple dozen people there every day.

During this time no other spaces have been created as an alternative for the chronically homeless, and the people leaving jail in downtown who have no place to go.

Although the County has increased its attempts to house veterans and the very ill in downtown, there are no proposals at the County or City level to deal with the fact that most homeless now only have sidewalks to sit on all day.   

This trend is only likely to continue with the development of the train station, the designed purpose of which is to turn Fort Lauderdale's skid row into a gentrified cityscape for Broward's upper class.