The Heart Goes for a Haircut

How to be homeless on Miami Beach

Passing a small patch of empty grass outside a hotel near Eighth and Collins, New Times's guide to the demimondeannounces: "That's where we take off the drunked-up college boys [like the kids who were just down for the Winter Music Conference]. They drink too much and lay down to sleep and we make orejas de conejo[rabbit ears] out of their pockets [by pulling them inside out]. Between 2:00 a.m. and sunup, you see white boys all over South Beach, sprawled out like X's on their asses, they arms spread out like Jesus . . ."

When the fuzz catches anyone for any of the crimes cited above, it's jail, arraignment, jail, trial, and usually jail again; if you're Bisente Martinez, or Billy Budrow, or Eby Loveland, however, the routine is more mundane: Cop decides you've broken some variation of the homeless ordinances; you're clapped into an enforcement code van and plasti-cuffed to one of a series of chrome poles inside; if you're unlucky, you're among the first on a shift, and may have to stand or sit for hours while the van ratchets around, seeking a full load. (MIABPD "harvests" 24 hours, but there are only two runs a day to Miami, so you often find yourself standing in the frozen "dump cell" at Eleventh and Washington, because the place is too crowded to sit.) The plastic cuffs in the van are meant to prevent fighting, and if you make a lot of noise and flail around anyway, the officers will "hog-tie" you with a series of metal cuffs, and fling you on the floor, where your fellow prisoners will laugh and spit at you for being a dumb prick . . . In the holding cell, the air-conditioning is kept at freezing because shivering, blanket-wearing homeless are more likely to be peaceful homeless . . . On the other hand, if the county jail at Thirteenth and Thirteenth is too crowded, you may get sprung after only a few hours and some misdemeanor coffee.

A bad part of the Beach for homeless is Twentieth and Collins, a heavy drug market and raggedy-assed hooker stroll. Ghetto vagrants from Miami fronting dope of various kinds will often get into it with Latino and Anglo tramps, and Officer Trinidad swears: "Thatlocation often makes me wonder where my head was at when I promised to 'protect and serve'" . . . But the worst scene, in terms of violence, hands down, is the old Carillon Hotel at 79th and Collins, once featured prominently every Friday night at 10 in the opening credits of Miami Vice, now a derelict building in the heart of Little Buenos Aires.

Today's Carillon is a kind of hotel without portfolio, purportedly empty, supposedly awaiting redevelopment. South Beach sources allege a rough crew hangs out there, dealing, and even renting rooms to "Aryan" customers for $5 a night. On the day New Times visited, a husky, battered fellow named Rigoberto from Chicago was sitting out front, picking at a sore on the underside of his foot, and pointing at the badly healed scar that split his right eyebrow and bisected his eyelashes: "I dunnowhy dey done me this way," he answered a question. "Four Anglos hitting with sticks and kicking!" A tall guard, adamant that there were no homeless living in the old hotel, and perhaps feeling guilty for lying, crooked his finger and strolled a short distance: "Señor," he said, "Rigoberto is crasy. There are a bunch of Anglo vagrants living under the bridges around here, Gulf War veterans, Vietnam veterans. Much dopa. Very angry men. You heard of the killing [in North Beach] last year? Too much traficante, you understand? This Rigoberto tells them he fucks their mothers. He is lucky he still breathes." He pointed toward the beach, where he said the bad Anglos gathered. "Cuidado," he warned.

But after a long trudge through the sand, New Timesfound no one willing to talk, or who looked particularly dangerous. Turning around, however, lines of laundry strung across the rear windows of the upper floors of the Carillon flapped in the sea breeze.

A chain fence meant to keep intruders out had been bent back, and flattened weeds showed a path to the rear of the building. Plywood had been tacked over doorways in several places. It appeared to have been pried open regularly.

Inside looked like a Blade Runner set. Surreal dissolution, shiny silt on all surfaces. Your footsteps echoed badly, and on the stairs between the second and third floors, black shadows preceded a delegation from the upper reaches of the Carillon:

"Where the fuck are yougoing?" growled a man holding what looked like a pry bar.

"I'm from New Times, the newspaper?"

"You better get the fuck out, shitbird!" yelled another angry voice.

"Writin' a story about the homeless . . ."

"Who's 'homeless,' dipstick? We're nomads! We're bums!"

"And Republicans!" the first guy roared. "Republican tramps!"

"We don't want no milky social worker jive!"

"Get your ass out!"

The first man flung the bar, but he missed.

The Poor Are Always with Us

What really bothers people about the homeless is their reflective quality: "There but for the grace of Visa go I." Every office has its weak links, and it's anthropologically wonderful how the strong links sense, isolate, and try to drive them out, as ruthlessly as any East African baboon troop. In Miami Beach, a community of strong links struggling to redefine itself in the afterglow of its post-fashion bonfire, and scared by a bad recession and the 9/11 fallout (though this winter's season recouped nicely), city government has been moving against the homeless "tactfully," in hopes of making the Beach attractive to -- if not Anna Wintour and Gwyneth Paltrow -- an upper-middle and middle-class visitor and taxpayer base. While retaining enough of a whiff of the pulsing Ingrid Casares/Chris Paciello glamour of its immediate past to keep things "provocative." Like Las Vegas, with its defanged "gangster" theme-park aura.

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