The Heart Goes for a Haircut

How to be homeless on Miami Beach

The Stumbling Horde

Camillus House on NW Fifth Street and First Avenue in Miami feeds from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m., and you can get good basic staples like chicken and hamburger, veggies and soup; Mission Rescue at Twentieth and Miami Avenue serves lunch at 12 and supper at 6, but there you've got to deal with "earbanging," which is what Bisente Martinez, the "Mayor of Watson Island," calls the religious instruction that Christian services require the homeless to endure before they're allowed to chow down; you can also eat at Lot 16 on the Miami River, a mobile unit for the Miami HAC (Homeless Assistance Center) at SW Third and the river -- Thursday nights are pasta, and you get authentic Italian stuff plus cake and "real" soda like Coke or Pepsi (instead of sugar water and off-brands); then there is St. Michael's Catholic Church at Flagler and 29th (chicken, homemade spaghetti); and there's always the Salvation Army's $10 nights (you can eat and sleep) at NW 22nd Avenue and 38th Street (first night free). "If you die of starvation in this town, you died of stupidity," Bisente, who will be remembered for his homeless advocacy following Hurricane Andrew, says, wolfishly.

But none of these places is on the Beach. MIAB virtually has no public help for the homeless (though it does have 190 "emergency" and "intermediary bed" referrals through Douglas Gardens, a private, Jewish charity aid organization on Lincoln Road, and from Miami Beach's Homeless Coordinator's office, headed by the very capable Olga Vasquez, Neighborhood Services director Vivian Guzman, and liaison Miami-Dade Homeless Trust executive director Hilda Fernandez); yet most homeless who need a place to crash are still dependent on Camillus House, or the Salvation Army -- or the code enforcement officers, who offer them a night at SA, and if turned down, bounce them into a van and dump them into holding pens at Eleventh and Washington, for transport to county jail at Thirteenth and Thirteenth. Even though Federal District Court Judge Clyde Atkins, in his landmark class-action case Pottinger Decision in 1994, ruled it unconstitutional for police to arrest vagrants for public eating, drinking and sleeping without offering them an available bed, and even though both municipalities have had to pay out a total of $600,000 in fines to homeless who've been summarily treated, cops have gone on rousting them relentlessly, sometimes more (under Mayor Dermer), sometimes less (under former Mayor Neisen Kasdin).

Mrs. Maupin sells her artwork near the Club Deuce
Steve Satterwhite
Mrs. Maupin sells her artwork near the Club Deuce
Thomas Hunt, originally from Kentucky, on one of South Beach's meaner streets
Steve Satterwhite
Thomas Hunt, originally from Kentucky, on one of South Beach's meaner streets

Since March 20th, it's been more. That's when Miami Beach augmented its "open container" law with an ordinance curled around the political hypocrisy of "public camping," a notion that would have cracked the stone-faced William Burroughs up: Central to this exercise in tautology is MIAB's new definition of "camping" -- a bum lying on the empty sand at, say, Fifth Street, is legally "sleeping" and can't be touched, but another one, ten yards away, with a rag covering his skinny shanks to keep the beach chiggers from biting, is "camping," and therefore in violation (the cover makes the difference). Similarly (but under another ordinance), a tramp snoring off a bottle of Vitalis Hair Tonic laced with Natural Ice beer (a homeless Valium substitute), up near Muscle Beach at Twelfth Street, is guilty of a felony if he allows his head to loll over on a bed of sea oats -- which some guys prefer to sleeping on the gritty sand. It's then that MIABPD zealots like Officer Kevin Graham, or the powerlifter with the wrap sunglasses sutured to his buzzcut -- the one they call "Rambo" -- will come along and winch you up by your belt loops with one hand while crackling to the transport van: "Got a skel here at Muscle destroying the natural vegetation at ONE TWO OCEAN. Request vehicle dispatch!" And shortly a red-white-and-blue will roll up and South Beach's sea oats beds will be as safe as the Governor's lawn again.

But, despite these inconveniences, some men and women don't want to leave the Beach. Take Bisente Martinez's pal Billy Budrow from New York, a rock-and-roll-looking individual whose youthful features can still pull the ladies who populate the Zone -- Fifth Street to Lincoln, Ocean Drive to Washington -- where all the choice target tourists concentrate. The Zone is where code enforcement concentrates, too, but if you cool it in Lummus Park (the palmy waterfront strip between Ocean Drive proper and the sand), covering your container, being relatively quiet, not carrying a big Stray Bag or pushing one of those chrome shopping carts with all your skanky underpants and spare socks hanging out that reallybuzz the cops' tolerance meters, you can operate a little. Billy will grab himself a can of breakfast beer from one of the friendly bar boys who work out of the hotel and restaurant employees' entrances in the alley behind Ocean Drive (the only designated safe passage through the Zone for the homeless, somewhat like the "by-pass" roads around Arab and Israeli settlements in the West Bank), scoot over to a shady spot in Lummus, select a likely palm tree, plunk down resolutely, and, back braced conscientiously, begin holding it up.

All kinds of things can happen during the day, while you sit there with your drinking pal from the suburbs, the one who brushes his eyebrows with a travel toothbrush and likes to talk politics: "Penelas is worsethan Diaz, I'm tellin' ya! Diaz is an old-fashioned human corruption guy, but Alex is the corporate yuppie pervo type . . ."; Billy nodding, yawning, checking out the luminous legs of the sunbathers scissoring by and then -- as happened the first week in April -- a knockout stops in front of him in a nude silk criss-cross dress by Narciso Rodriguez, arms folded, abruptly waiting. He stands up, leaves his drink with Suburbs, and they take a cab to Twentieth and Collins. She's a hooker and this is some john's room, but he's been down in the bar drinking for hours and she's still itching, knows Billy's rep . . .

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