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.

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