For about two years, Daniel Zajac has lived in a tent tucked behind a big tree along the northern banks of the Julia Tuttle Causeway. "I can't live in a shelter," explains the jittery 47-year-old transient who wears a "New York" hat and a William Taft mustache. "I'm just not the type of person that can live in a room with a bunch of other people. I just want to be left alone."
His neighbor a couple of bushes over is Allen, who says he's been on the causeway for 20 years. Like Daniel's digs, Allen's tarp isn't visible from I-195.
Between them, the two pals have amassed 51 criminal charges in Miami-Dade County over decades of drinking on the street, trespassing on private property, and the somewhat bewildering "unlawful use of a dairy case." Unfortunately for Daniel and Allen, though, neither is a registered sex offender. Because of that, they're being booted.
Since 2006, Florida Department of Corrections officials have forced convicted sex offenders to live under the Julia Tuttle upon their release from prison. At last count, 140 of the social exiles have lived on what might be post-recession Miami's only high-demand waterfront property.
In recent weeks, City of Miami "homeless housing specialists" have ordered Allen and Daniel to move — and if they don't beat it, their makeshift homes will be confiscated and the men could face arrest for trespassing. The reason: They couldn't produce evidence that they were molesters. "I tried to tell him I was a sex offender," Daniel says of the official who gave him the warning. "He said, 'Who's your [probation officer]?' Shit."
David Rosemond, director of the Miami Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET), admits non-sex offenders are being herded away in response to a "tremendous amount" of complaints about the growing homeless causeway colony. "We've heard, 'Why are you allowing the sex offenders here and not us?'" says Rosemond. "The truth is, nobody's allowed to live there... and if you're not a sex offender, it's a heck of a lot easier to find another place to put you."
He means a shelter — where Daniel refuses to go. "I'm either living here or the steps of the Omni Center," he vows. "I'd think they'd want me out of sight, where I'm not bothering anybody."
Rosemond says this isn't the first time he's been forced to evict squatters from the Julia Tuttle and its surrounding area. A dimwitted Atlanta family with a young daughter in tow read about the colony and tried to set up camp there. And NET tossed a seafaring bum named "Pepito" from a tiny Biscayne Bay island where he was living.