Where the Girls Are

Crack addicts. Homeless ex-cons. Transvestite prostitutes with HIV. If life has landed you in TV Park, you probably didn't have far to fall.

To break the cycle requires extraordinary heroism, not to mention help from the right people at the right time, which is why Dade's few overwhelmed and underfunded programs for homeless addicts manage to help only the smallest portion of those who need it. Next year, of course, as one stage in the multimillion-dollar comprehensive plan to address the massive, unwieldy homeless problem, the county will build one or two big shelters. Services for those with so-called special needs, such as drug and alcohol problems, mental illness, and AIDS, are also slated to be expanded. Some people now living in Commerce Park might move to one of the shelters, for the simple reason that they may not be allowed to remain on city property.

Perhaps that will be their salvation. Yet in many ways, additional public services probably will be irrelevant to these people and the many others who have lived so far out of the mainstream for so long. Donna MacDonald, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, puts it bluntly: "The bottom line is we have a criminal justice system incapable of rehabilitating criminals and we have a social services system which cannot deal with the addiction problem in this country. If America locally and nationally can't get a handle on drugs, crime, and inner-city decay, homelessness is just another symptom."

Anthony, a compact, thirtyish man whose stage of muscular development places him at about a month out of prison, is sure he will be sleeping in the park only until his Social Security money begins to come in. Insistent that he needs treatment for "high anxiety," he prowls tensely around the park with a handful of papers, some apparently from a residential treatment program, diagnosing him as manic-depressive and reminding him of appointments with doctors. He doesn't know why he's not in a program any more, but he does know he's a slave to crack, and that those Social Security checks will supply the boost he needs. "Things definitely are going to get better," he declares, looking into the distance, or, more accurately, at the heavily barred video store across the way.

In less than a month, he'll be in jail again, for theft.
The languid pace of afternoon gives way to mounting activity as nighttime approaches. Out of nowhere, people appear, silently mounting the shallow steps to the pavilion. Someone fishes a pipe from a pocket and wanders off to smoke in a corner. Another jumps up and runs to the curb, slips into a car that's just pulled up, and doesn't reappear until an hour later.

If a prostitute spots a regular customer cruising past, she'll suddenly snap to attention, then nonchalantly wander out to the sidewalk. The client may be a lawyer or a laborer or a banker or a schoolteacher. He may drive a black Saab, a gold Mercedes, a red Toyota, or a green Pontiac. Many are excited simply by the idea of a man in make-up and women's clothes. Then there are the ones who want passionately to be deceived. Or the fetishists. The rule is, you don't quote prices to a date. You ask how much he's spending, and you can negotiate from there. The money is usually good. You might make $100 for a blowjob or you might, if you were feeling very generous or very desperate, accept $30. Whatever you do, you carry a bandolier of rubbers tucked away in your little pocketbook, the strap slung across your flat man's chest.

Sam has gone home to her family, and no one at the park has heard from her since. Tokyo is living with her old man but still comes out to 79th Street. Things have been quiet lately. Chris and Luscious were picked up in a sweep; a week later they're fresh out of jail and ready to go back out on the street. It's a moonless night, and though the air is heavy and humid, its cool breath occasionally reaches into the park.

Anthony hasn't been awake long, but already he has assumed the edgy, vigilant look that's typical in the park after sundown. "I ain't going to be in the mix like that," he asserts. "I ain't gonna let no one come up here and beat on me. I sleep all day and be up all night."

Most feared by the park people are the children, especially the simmering groups who pass beneath the dim streetlights on their way to the Pac Jam. When the kids get a little riled, say the park residents, they're liable to throw bottles. Worse, they don't mind pumping bullets into strangers. "The dangerous ones are young," advises Heavy. "The '74, '75 baby -- those are the most notorious. They don't care about nothing."

Tonight Chris is distracted. Her boyfriend Mike, who got out of jail not long ago, too, will be stopping by later. (Terry, the man she refers to as her husband, has been in prison at Avon Park Correctional Institute for the past few years. Chris says she speaks to him by phone regularly.) Tonight she'd like to be able to rent a hotel room for herself and Mike. To do that, though, she has to go out and work, something Mike doesn't like. He's macho, she says.

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