Judge upholds county's order to vacate homeless encampment in Miami-Dade County

About 300 registered sex offenders were living at encampment

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A judge on Thursday upheld Miami-Dade County's order for registered sex offenders to vacate a homeless encampment.

The encampment near the intersection of Northwest 71st Street and 32nd Avenue had about 300 registered sex offenders before Sunday, when county officials said they gave the residents what they called their last notice to vacate the area.

"We'll review our options after today, but because of the difficulty our clients have in relocating, they'll most likely be relocating to anther street corner to avoid arrest," Jeffrey Hearne, with Legal Services of Greater Miami, said.

According to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four of the tenants, the plaintiffs are not able to find anywhere else to live and are "involuntarily homeless" because of the county's residence restriction ordinance that prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any school.

"The excessive reach of the county's residence restriction has drastically exacerbated and continues to drastically exacerbate transience and homelessness in Miami-Dade County," the lawsuit stated.

"I've been going through this for 15 years now," one tent city resident said. "Every time I go up, I go back down."

Most of the offenders who spoke to Local 10 News over the weekend blamed the tough county restrictions on their housing issue.

"Right now, what's going through my mind is, where am I going to go?" one of the tent residents said.

The 34-year-old man said he thought a parcel of private land in Kendall was a likely option, but residents there protested any such move, and word spread that the move would not be a county-sanctioned idea.

"We are not able to go over there because the owner of the property never knew there was people residing in that area," the man said.

County officials said they are assessing the needs of the remaining residents while reminding them that as of Sunday night, those living in tents could no longer stay.

"All that we can do, as we do with all the homeless people in our community, is try to find (them) a place, and we even give them rental assistance -- up to six months of rental assistance if they can find a compliant address," Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp said.

Officials with the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust have visited the encampment eight times since August, working with the tenants on counseling and relocation efforts. Each of those visits involved the assistance of Miami-Dade police and served as official warnings to vacate.

About the Authors:

Amanda Batchelor is the Digital Executive Producer for Local10.com.

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.