Miami commissioners vote on 'camping prohibition' law

Ordinance seeks to ban homeless from camping out on public property


MIAMI – Miami commissioners will vote on the controversial "camping prohibition" law on Thursday that would make it illegal for people to camp out on public property.

Opponents said the proposed ordinance would be a setback and a step in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, supporters claim it's about public safety and it's a solution to a growing problem.

The growing homeless population is a common sight in downtown Miami, with people setting up tents on public property like sidewalks and vacant lots.

But under the proposed ordinance by commissioner Marc Sarnoff, tents would be illegal, which would give police more power to crackdown on the homeless.

"I think the purpose behind this ordinance, Mr. Chairman, is very simply to give police officers a legal basis to give a lawful order," Sarnoff said during Thursday's commission meeting. "It doesn't have to end up with a criminal penalty. It could end up with civil infraction. "

Opponents claim the proposed law is not only violating human rights, but is also creating problems with the Pottinger Agreement, a 1998 settlement to a class action lawsuit giving homeless the right to sleep in public places.

"If you're homeless and have no place to sleep and you're sleeping outdoors , somebody may think it is a trespass," said Jean Baker with the American Civil Liberties Union.  "But if you have nowhere to sleep , the Pottinger settlement says you can sleep there as long as there's no available shelter ."

Dozens of people, including the homeless, came to the commission in full force Thursday morning.

Some believe the ordinance will solve a growing problem.

"It's an issue for downtown. It's an issue for our emergency workers and it is an issue for our workers and an issue for our residents," said one supporter of the proposed law.

Leah Weston is a local attorney who represents veterans, many of whom are homeless. She told Local 10 News that she was at the meeting to fight the ordinance.

"(The ordinance) threatens to make individuals already vulnerable to getting houses and jobs," said Weston. "It threatens to slam them with a felony record and in turn to make it even harder for them to get a job."

The commission is expected to vote on the issue Thursday afternoon.

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