Miami wants homeless-protection act changed

City asks federal court to undo parts of Pottinger v Miami

MIAMI - The city of Miami went to federal court Wednesday to argue its case for changing a landmark legal agreement that for 15 years has protected the homeless from harassment by police.

In the Pottinger v. Miami case, 5,000 homeless people and the ACLU of Florida sued the city, alleging that police practices of sweeping them off the streets was unconstitutional. The agreement bars police from arresting homeless people for doing "life-sustaining activity," which includes sleeping, eating, and sitting.

But those wanting it changed argued that the loitering homeless are stunting the growth of downtown.

"Homeless cannot have more rights than our residents or merchants in downtown Miami," said Mayor Tomas Regalado. "It will be good for the homeless and good for downtown. They can go out of the streets, go in, take a bath, have breakfast, and then come back out on the street."

"The rights of those people who have no choice have to be protected and they shouldn't be arrested or have their property destroyed because they have no other place to be," said Benjamin Waxman, who first argued the 15-year-old agreement.

"Pottinger doesn't prohibit them [police] from arresting people who are -- even homeless people -- who are committing felonies," said Maria Kayanan with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida.

Since the deal, the county's Homeless Trust, a national model of help and services, cut the population of the homeless to several hundred. Many of those on the street are considered chronic or don't want help.

"We made a decision 20 years ago that our plan would not be a smart plan if we simply swept people off the street into a warehouse at night and then swept back on the street during the day. That doesn't end homelessness on a permanent basis."," said Ron Book with the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.

The judge asked that the case go to mediation.

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