Saturday, May 20, 2017

Surprise Eviction at Stranahan Camp

Bulldozer trashing homeless camp
Friday afternoon
Just before 3 pm on Friday, May 20th, the City of Fort Lauderdale abruptly announced the temporary closure of Stranahan Park due to health concerns.


Back in November, the City created a de-facto compromise with the help of the Main Library. Homeless people would no longer live on the sidewalk in front of Stranahan Park, but they would be permitted to stay in the small bushy areas in between the park and the library, fully on County property. The camp was allowed to take hold for quite some time, and many pallets were brought in and other ways to improve what was essentially a small patch of dirt surrounded by concrete. There was even a puppy that grew up there.

Recently, the City seems to have lost patience with the camp, whining about being seen as "weak" on homelessness at a recent joint workshop with the County, and most recently, held a secret meeting at the Women's Club last week where "dealing with homelessness" was the #1 priority.

They spoke of getting rid of downtown food sharings as a "top priority" but didn't get into specifics there. But the Mayor and company were quite specific on their immediate desire to "clear out the park" and "clear out the 308," referring to the number of homeless people the county counted in January as not wanting help in housing, aka the "chronically homeless." The Mayor's candor towards the homeless was on its usual display as he rambled about how ridiculous it was to "give free wifi" to people that won't take their help. The Mayor also said he "absolutely" wants the area of Stranahan Park and the Main Library cleared of homeless people "nightly."

The Eviction

Food Not Bombs sharing following eviction
In the past, FLPD officers, Park Rangers, or others, have had some kind of communication with the homeless camp about what to expect coming up, and there have been some unfulfilled pledges to remove the pallets from the camp recently. However there was no advance warning to anyone there about Friday's eviction, which went well beyond what anything had been proposed before.

A long series of recycle bins were brought to collect everyone's possessions and bring them to FLPD headquarters. 1 week vouchers for hotels and bus passes were handed out to some. Within an hour the entire camp was gone, and soon orange tape and signs created a new perimeter around all of Stranahan Park (except the Women's Club). City Manager Lee Feldman & Mayor Jack Seiler then held a press conference at City Hall announced that the park was being closed for at least the next month in order to deal with the "health hazard" of rats at the homeless camp.

And we'll repeat that...because there were rats at the homeless camp, they closed the entire Park, but not the Women's Club, all of which are a few feet away from each other.


Notices posted around Stranahan
announcing its closure late Friday
Talks of "political repercussions" came up quickly. The City seems to have acted totally on its own with the eviction, with even Broward County Homelessness Board members finding out live on Facebook. It remains to be seen how the county will go along with this as the Mayor did not hesitate in repeatedly criticizing COC board members by name; the Mayor also claimed that Commissioners like Dale Holeness are now behind the Mayor in regards to ending food sharings. City Commissioner Trantalis, who just a year ago said he wanted all anti-homeless laws repealed, certainly said nothing like that at this meeting and was made out to be the City's little messenger boy for their future actions against the homeless.

If the City actually acted on any more of these decidedly heavy handed attitudes towards the homeless, it would seem that suffering in downtown is going to greatly increase as people are scattered into smaller and smaller areas in downtown.