Friday, August 12, 2016

DDA Extortion For Huzienga Plaza Begins

A shadow has been hanging over one of the "public" spaces in downtown Fort Lauderdale: Huzienga Plaza/Beaubier Park is at risk of being privatized. The Downtown Development Agency, facing a large shortfall over many of its projects, has been threatening to sell the property unless the City of Fort Lauderdale rents it out.

On Tuesday, the City Commission of Fort Lauderdale will formally vote on the request to rent the park from the DDA for $100,000 a year. The undercurrents of this situation are sad but predictable. The DDA has engaged in a series of boondoggles that have gone nowhere for years, including the WAVE streetcar, anti-homeless programs such as the "Ambassadorship program" and supporting the City's anti-homeless laws, and trying to get a new Federal Courthouse built.

The DDA claims they have to get this revenue from the Park to make up for the lack of taxes that they are collecting from downtown businesses, and have even suggested that if the City does not rent it that they will sell it to a developer. The DDA themselves are a veritable cabal of millionaire developers and property owners, appointed by the Fort Lauderdale City Commission.

What the fuck gives them the right to extort the City for $100,000 a year for one of its parks, or risk it being privatized?  Homeless hate laws take on many forms, and this is surely one of them. The DDA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars the last few years making sure Riverwalk and Huzienga are well-guarded against unsavory homeless people. They've also made a spectacular effort to revitalize and gentrify the area, a noble effort if at any point there was any provisions made for the indigent people who already live in the area.

Will the City support this effort? In the past they have not acted particularly happy with the DDA's demands for help with their budget problems. But we're now closing in on the last year of Mayor Seiler's tenure, and how many times have we seen this City Commission get a proposal forwarded to them by the City Attorney, and supported by downtown's 1%, that they did not like?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stranahan Society Pt 2 - A New Shelter? And More

Following up on our recap on the first meeting of the CoC's ad hoc committee to address Stranahan Park issues...

Board Member Frank Pontillo talked at length about San Diego's ePATH program, which provides a full service shelter and sharing program. The real question is, is anyone else really serious about this? The City of Fort Lauderdale has staved off a new shelter program in downtown for 20+ years. Properties such as "The Tree," which is already a gathering place for homeless people, has languished for decades and is perfectly positioned. The Federal Courthouse is supposedly being knocked down and replaced. There are a number of interesting possibilities, but will anyone actually allow it to exist? It seems very unlikely.

Another thing that happened Friday was discussion over the "Broward Local Coalition." Mason Jackson of Career Source suggested that the business community should lead it. The business community, of course, wasn't there, but if you flip over the Downtown Development Authority's meeting notes you will see that they do seem interested in the issues - encouraging the sweeps of homeless people's property and discouraging downtown businesses from letting their employees share food with the homeless. Few would be against the reformation of the Local Coalition, which fell apart in 2009 or so, but leaving it in the hands of the same people who created the Homeless Hate Laws of Fort Lauderdale is abominable. We'll be keeping a close watch on that one, particularly considering how closely the DDA seems to be connected to the storage ban enforcements of the last few months.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Stranahan Society Speaks, Part 1

On Friday afternoon, the Homelessness Continuum of Care Board (CoC)  tried something a little different. They held a meeting that focused solely on the alleviation of the woes of Stranahan Park.

Friday's Homelessness CoC meeting took
place in County Commission Chambers
Although much of the CoC's business is done yards away from the largest population of chronically homeless people in Broward County, it is not a frequent topic of discussion for them. In fact, since many only meet once or twice a month and are constrained by Florida's Sunshine State Law, the CoC does not communicate directly with one another in the way one would expect executives from major homeless providers that collaborate together would. Some have staff for that sort of issue, but it remains a problem.

Friday qualified as a well attended CoC assembly with an audience at around 30. Homeless people and homeless advocates spoke about many things, including endemic problems in the HAC system that are well known to the homeless community (shelter representatives were in attendance but mostly silent). Also mentioned were property confiscations, the criminalization of homelessness, and complaints of over-policing. Relatively few homeless service providers or advocates from the Stranahan area were present. Absent was anyone from the Fort Lauderdale Women's Club, or any of the other homeless-bashing residents or business-people that frequented similar City meetings in the past.

Afterwards, CoC Board members addressed most of these issues amongst themselves. Ultimately, the Board chucked any vote (which would have to pass 2 more levels of County Government before having any possible legal authority) to an as-yet unscheduled 2nd meeting of the "Ad Hoc Central Fort Lauderdale Committee."

Several things of interest were discussed by CoC Board Members that should not escape notice.

Of perhaps greatest interest was discussion around the controversial enforcement of Fort Lauderdale's storage ban law - one of the original "homeless hate laws" that this blog was made in resistance to. Most present were in agreement that Fort Lauderdale needs to seriously revise the way in which they are carrying out these enforcements. Commissioner and Board Member Dean Trantalis claimed that this is already in progress, but did not say anything to suggest that these enforcements would stop anytime soon. In a separate comment, he did say that these laws were not working and were a mistake, but said nothing about simply repealing them.

Several others complained specifically about anti-homeless laws. The Board ultimately gave little focus to this issue, and one even suggested that there was nothing at all that they could do. (The Board has in fact been sitting on a letter that they have been intending to send to the Cities of Broward County discouraging them from creating or enforcing homeless hate laws, for about a year.)

Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Lee Feldman was present and apparently communicating with Commissioner Trantalis from the audience. After Feldman left, Trantalis said that he had been told by text by the City Manager that no enforcement actions resulted in anyone's property being thrown out. This is quite simply not true. The City Attorney should certainly be asked that question again sometime.

Representatives of the Broward ACLU and Public Defender's office were also present to register their discontent over how this situation has been handled. CoC Chairman and BSO employee Scott Russell said he would facilitate a meeting between law enforcement and these civil rights attorneys. The CoC largely waxed apologetic about the storage ban, but they still are not doing much about it.

Showers and restrooms were a topic that seemed to have some traction in the form of the Live Fresh Shower Truck program. Hope South Florida suggested that they would be willing to operate this program locally, and Commissioner Trantalis said he thought the City may be interested in paying for it. This would be an incredible investment for the City of Fort Lauderdale, which has not put any significant funding to new homeless services in years. Will the City really decide to spend half a million dollars a year to give homeless people showers while doing everything they can to get rid of the same people?

More or less glossing over the notoriety of our current shelter system, focus went towards the idea of asking the County to support a new homeless shelter in Fort Lauderdale. One Board Member envisioned a full service facility, with mid term and permanent housing, full time food services, and intake and social work specialists. Other board members felt the need to remind everyone that nobody is ever willing to propose a space for such a project and its too unrealistic, which felt a little like they weren't really there to look for solutions at all.

Incredibly, Commissioner Trantalis suggested that the City of Fort Lauderdale would support this initiative. He elaborated that he thinks that the City has learned from its mistakes in creating the anti-homeless laws of 2014 and that they were coming around to discussing alternatives. This would be quite a sea change if there were any merit to it...what few public statements the City has made about the homeless this year have not been encouraging. All sharing ban court proceedings are still dragging on, and will enter their 3rd year in November.

In fact, on the same day the Sun Sentinel reported that the City may put up to $176 million to renovate its parks in downtown. While the potential sales tax funds may also go towards programs like public transportation, that help the homeless, so far there is no indication that any of the money focused towards public parks would be used to create the very services that Friday's CoC meeting was talking about.

We're going to have some more analysis on this some time later in Part 2.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Call to Action: Stranahan Committee This Friday

The first meeting of the "Ad Hoc Central Fort Lauderdale Committee" of the Broward Homelessness Continuum of Care Board is Friday, 2:30 pm in Government Central - 115 S Andrews Room A337.

This committee has been set up in response to several months of complaints and hand-wringing at CoC meetings over the lack of progress on many issues in Stranahan Park, which has led to several enforcements on issues such as the storage of homeless possessions in the area. Although the advisory board is a limited bureaucracy that rarely takes fast action on much of anything, we hope that advocates for the homeless are able to stir some changes in this quagmire by attending and adding their outside voices to this meeting.

Afterwards, homeless advocates with Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs will be having their usual weekly food sharing in Stranahan at 4:30, followed by a debrief on the Stranahan Committee at 6 pm. We predict a unsatisfying and, at best, semi-productive meeting at Goverment Center and would like to follow up and hear people's thoughts on the meeting and what other actions can or should be taken to resolve Stranahan Park's many long-standing issues around homelessness, the City of Fort Lauderdale, and police actions.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"The Stranahan Committee," Property Thefts, and More

As reported in New Times, more confiscations of homeless property took place last week. This time the police were not involved, underscoring the inconsistency with which these seizures have occurred since April. Since the items were hauled away in dumptrucks, recovery would seem to not be an option at this time. Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs is still collecting containers and luggage to try to keep up with the seizures.

If the reason was that the Women's Club wanted to clean things up for another weekend wedding, that must not have turned out as expected; aside from the usual Saturday afternoon piles of whiteboxes and water bottles piled up all along the fence, there was an extremely large and vocal Black Lives Matter protest happening at the same time as the Women's Club event.

#BLM954 protest at Stranahan Park 7.10.16  courtesy Dream Defenders
While the City seems content to drift into another summer session without re-addressing the mostly abandoned sharing ban, or the controversial storage ban, County homeless services seem to be taking a different approach.

Although the County's Continuum of Care Board has not had much of a response to the storage controversy so far, at the last monthly Board meeting, it was decided that an "ad hoc" Commitee would be established to specifically address issues at Stranahan Park. The Stranahan Commitee's first meeting will be Friday, July 22nd, at 2:30 pm at Government Center, and voices from outside the local government bureaucracy will be sorely needed.

BSO Captain, and CoC Chairman, Scott Russell, learning about
Live Fresh courtesty Sun Sentinel
A little over a week, the Live Fresh shower truck did a demonstration at Saint Anthony's Catholic Church. Unfortunately, the fluff stories on this welcome idea did not discuss the fact that this program does not currently have a means to move forward in Broward County. There would need to be a locally based non-profit to generate the donations or funding for the project, and to work out contracts with the various municipalities as to when and where they would perform their services, dump wastewater, and so on. At this time, there are not a lot of non-profit programs in Broward County that would take on such a task. Even if they would, it would probably take a better part of a year before this handful of toilets and showers would be available to anyone in the County.

We'll be holding on for a day when we can announce actual "progress" on these issues as opposed to "updates."

Friday, July 1, 2016

Storage Ban Recovery Updates

As previously reported, at least 6 people had their belongings taken from the sidewalk outside Stranahan Park last Friday. New Times wrote a report about it, however we are going to go into a few more details.

Food Not Bombs activists brought homeless people to recover their belongings on Monday, as reported, and again on Wednesday, this time recovering a bike that was put in the evidence room. Unfortunately several people whose belongings were taken seem to have already given up on getting them back and many things are still at the police station.

In both cases, activists reported that FLPD seemed to be clueless about how to handle situation, even going as far as saying that they did not know how to go about enforcing these laws on the street.

 As one activist put it, "My first interaction in helping someone get their property back was a cold unknowing indifference by the people who illegitimately stole it. The front desk didn’t have a clue, the evidence room didn’t have a clue, and we were forced to sit and wait for someone, anyone, who could help. Eventually, after nearly an hour of waiting, a sergeant strolls in, embodying the essence of flippancy and indifference, allowed our friend to rejoin himself with his blue huffy bicycle while seemingly lecturing him how “he must remember to behave himself” by virtue of his homelessness."

LAPD removing homeless people's property in Skid Row, 3.2016
from the LA Times
At this time, it would seem that the City isn't even enforcing the sharing ban law they passed but using existing laws about "abandoned or lost property" to clear things away when the Women's Club is having an event. As we've mentioned before, enforcing anti-homeless storage laws have been a lawsuit-riddled minefield for other cities. While we are NOT legal experts, it would seem that mis-applying even more laws to discriminate against homeless people is probably not going to work much better.

Will the City try this again, on a regular basis, or just when the Women's Club has a check to cash? Time will tell. While the City and County have both recently claimed that they are taking action on these issues, at this time that action has yet to manifest. July will be Month 3 for the City of Fort Lauderdale's attempts at enforcing a storage ban on Stranahan Park.

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.