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.