Counting the Down

Miami tallies its homeless.

Counting the Down

Filed under: News

Nick Basquez pulled his van under an I-95 overpass in downtown Miami, where a dozen people lay sleeping in piles of rags. A man was sitting upright, staring at his hands. Suddenly he stood, wandered toward the van, and began jabbering incoherently. "Hey, papo," Basquez pleasantly called out the window. The man waved.

Mike Gorman

"That guy is a schizophrenic crack addict. And he has a brain injury," Basquez said a few minutes later. "White Hispanic male, aged 20 to 30," he added. Renee Delaugh, his partner sitting in the passenger seat, made a note on her clipboard.

On January 29, the Miami-Dade Homeless Assistance Program performed its bi-annual homeless census. Some 50 people — about 30 staff members and some volunteers — took part. They gathered at 10 p.m. in Overtown to receive their assignments, then piled into vans and set off to record the number and makeup of Miami's homeless population.

The method was surprisingly simple. Basquez and Delaugh are "greenshirts," the team responsible for combing the streets every day to identify the homeless and try to get them help (or, in some cases, confiscate or destroy any semipermanent structures they might have built). Twice a year the greenshirts check every spot they know, count the people sleeping there, and compile the data. (Results won't be available for several more days; the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust recently estimated the population numbers 1,600 countywide.)

The census is a unique opportunity to catch up on where the bottom of the pecking order is hanging out these days, and Basquez — a former user himself — had plenty of insights. He searched obscure corners of parking lots and probed piles of rags to find — voila! — living beings sleeping inside. He pointed out former drug houses and current crack hotels. He offered up statistics — about half the homeless, he figures, are poor people who've had bad luck; the other half are schizophrenic.

"Relax, papo, relax," he said after startling a man tucked soundly into a cardboard box on SW First Street. "Black male, 40 to 50," he announced as we drove away from the box. — Isaiah Thompson


LSS THN FLL DSCLSR

Filed under: News

When it came time to find a cover story for its Winter 2008 DWNTNR newsletter, the Miami Downtown Development Authority — the agency behind the half-baked marketing strategy branding Miami's core as "DWNTN" — didn't have to look beyond its own boardroom.

The city-funded marketing agency profiled DDA board member José Goyanes's business partners, Jennifer Porciello and her husband Horacio Oliveira. The trio owns La Loggia, an Italian eatery across Flagler Street from the courthouse. But you wouldn't know that important detail by reading the DWNTNR. The article glorifies Porciello and Oliveira as pioneers in bringing people to the barren, collapsed sidewalks of downtown Miami, but makes no mention of the duo's connection to Goyanes.

The story, bylined by contributor Jennifer LeClaire, notes how the opening of La Loggia in 2001 "marked a turning point for downtown." You might expect the DDA to practice full disclosure with its readers, in light of a recent audit that faulted the agency for shoddy recordkeeping, questionable purchases, and overpaid employees. But — no.

Robert Geitner, project manager for the Downtown Management Partnership, the community-based organization that puts together the newsletter with the DDA, says the omission was unintentional. "It didn't occur to us," he says. "It was about writing an interesting story about a working mom who works downtown. The story was about Jennifer. Obviously José does not qualify as a downtown working mom." — Francisco Alvarado


Who Was I?

Filed under: Flotsam

For my 35th birthday last month, some friends threw a surprise "brunch." By the afternoon, I was so intoxicated on White Russians and bong hits that I decided to knock on the door of their neighbor, certified hypnotherapist Jed Shlackman.

I was greeted by Shlackman, a short, friendly man with a beard and a soft voice. I explained I wanted to experience "past-life regression" therapy, a kind of hypnosis that claims to reveal unconscious experiences from previous lives. "Come in," he said, informing me of the session's $65 price tag. The living room resembled a new-age ashram, festooned with crystals, burning candles, and miniature replicas of Egyptian pyramids. "The pyramids are designed to radiate energy," he said. "Have a seat."

I settled into a comfy leather recliner, prepared to uncover earlier incarnations of myself. Jed sat in front of me, pencil and notebook in hand. He turned up his stereo, amplifying the hypnotic sounds of chimes ringing. I began to drift.

"I will be counting down from 10 to one," said Jed. "With each number, you will take a step down the staircase that you now see in front of you." And there they were: white marble steps, and I was walking down. By the time Jed got to "one," I was in space. A gray alien appeared, and we stepped into a beam of yellow light. Jed snapped his fingers and asked me to describe the scene. "I am inside the spaceship," I answered. "There are human bodies hanging from meat hooks. Their stomachs are being sliced open by uniformed reptilian soldiers."

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