Since the beginning of time -- or at least the Reagan era -- the courtyard of downtown Miami's Stephen P. Clark Government Center has been a hot spot for Schlitz-addled homeless dudes, toothless bag ladies who will gum your shoulder if you get too close, and Bible-waving Old Testament screamers who have decided the best way to serve Jesus is to rant at commuters boarding the number 7 bus.
We always sort of assumed a vibrant congregation of transients came with the territory of a downtown urban center. But recently, it appears the county has decided to fight back.
It's opening a new, state-of-the-art temporary-living facility a healthy proximity from the government center. The facility will offer free substance-abuse treatment and, for those willing to become productive members of society, low-paying but dignified full-time jobs.
Just fucking with you. The county is putting up spikes so the homeless can't sit. Hey, it works with pigeons.
Outside the building is a big, dry fountain that's sort of like the Peach Pit for homeless who want to sit and hang out. But county workers recently cordoned off the thing with yellow plastic while they outfit the perimeter -- traditionally the seating surface -- of the fountain with metal rods.
County spokesperson Suzy Trutie denies that the "renovation" has anything to do with the homeless. (She also adds that it will cost only a thousand bucks. "What it's about," she insists, "is constantly updating and refurbishing all of our buildings."
Yeah, but they look something like spikes. And they feel a lot like spikes. Yes, we tried to sit on them. They hurt our butt.
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Problem is, homeless people are still hanging out at the government center. Only now they're looking for new places to sit. "It's had a completely backwards effect," says Sergio Trujillo, a home-having fellow who often visits the area to use the library. "Now all the homeless people use the benches, so if you're waiting for a bus, you have to stand."
On a recent weekday, that predicament was certainly clear. Homeless folks were either taking up bench space or had moved en masse to lounge next to a nearby fence. No tourist would mistake the courtyard for, like, Sweden. Alas, it turns out that when spiked, homeless people -- unlike pigeons -- don't fly to some far-away roost to quietly die of canker.
We even met one civic hero who had ignored the yellow plastic to sit on the only yard of fountain surface still awaiting spikes. His name was Ulysses, and he was happily popping almonds into his mouth. "This is my joint!" he proclaimed of the fountain between chews. "It's smooth. It's cold on a hot day. I told the construction workers to leave this little space open so that I could always sit here and watch the people."