Homeless registered sex offenders set up camp near Hialeah

Miami-Dade County deals with challenge of housing registered sex offenders

HIALEAH, Fla. – There’s a push in Miami-Dade County to shut down a homeless sex offender encampment along a corridor of Northwest 71st Street, just outside of Hialeah. They are living without access to restrooms, showers or a way to dispose of their garbage. 

Registered sex offenders said government regulations limiting how close they can live to schools and parks have left them with few options. 

A check of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s website lists hundreds of sexual offenders and predators as transient. They use the area as their official address. A man said he was caught during a sting in Broward County and has been living at the camp since February.

"I was on a social networking app," the man said. "I agreed to meet a 15-year-old boy. ... A woman across the hallway from my sister's apartment has two small children, and I understand she was scared."

Steve Grafton, the owner of Grafton Furniture, is among the entrepreneurs in northwest Miami-Dade County who are concerned about the sanitary conditions at the camp and the safety of the area. 

"Miami-Dade County should be embarrassed because of what these people are living like," Grafton said. "My wife, my daughter work here. I've already told all the employees they cannot be here after 6 p.m. because it’s just not safe."

Surveillance video from Quality Metal Panels captured a man trespassing to throw his tent in their dumpster. Tito Zarza, the owner of Quality Metal Panels, said homeless men also blocked access to the business and scared away other possible tenants. 

"We tried to open the other business right there in this space," owner Tito Zarza said.

Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, said there are "some very serious and significant concerns" about the health conditions. He said social workers and police officers were offering the homeless sex offenders financial assistance and access to housing.

Getting housing is one thing. Keeping it is another, according to one sex offender. He said work is scarce once employers learn about his conviction.

"This problem pops up from time to time in our community," Deputy Mayor Russell Benford said.

Benford said a long-term plan is needed. Both he and Book agreed that, although housing is limited, there are areas where sex offenders can live in the county.

Book said the county will set a deadline to shut down the encampment. Homeless sex offenders will be responsible for finding their own housing, and the Trust will assist temporarily with costs and services to help people get settled and employed.

"People have to work within the confines of the law, and whatever their behaviors have been, they have to deal with that," Book said.

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