Yesterday, New Times broke the story about allegations from homeless individuals throughout downtown Miami who say city workers have harassed them andd stolen their property.
Over the course of several months, people have claimed workers from the Miami Homeless Assistance Program (MHAP) -- often called "green shirts" because of their uniforms -- are to blame.
MHAP workers are supposed to be helping. A city website explains that "MHAP trains formerly homeless persons as Community Outreach Specialists (COS) to engage, assess the needs, and provide services to the various homeless populations."
But the following video, which was shot in July, shows a possible violation of the Pottinger settlement, a legal agreement certified in Federal Court that protects the homeless.
The Pottinger agreement is a 1998 federal settlement agreement between the city and its homeless population. The homeless, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), had won damages for hundreds of homeless individuals who suffered years of systemic abuse by Miami police.
The Pottinger settlement, result of a suit filed way back in 1988, also set down limitations on what activities could be prosecuted. Considering that homeless individuals don't have much choice about where they can sleep or eat, it protected 11 categories of activity, specifying that people should not get arrested just for performing life-sustaining behavior in public -- such as sleeping on a sidewalk, cooking, or bathing.
Pottinger made exceptions: arrests would be allowed if individual involved refused shelter. But on days when no shelter beds were available, police were precluded from even talking to homeless people.
Dozens of homeless people interviewed for our story say -- and the following video shows -- that their rights are rarely respected. They say "green shirts" are talking to them, often abusively, whether shelter is available or not. While the following video doesn't show a green shirt stealing anything, it does show one (who declined to give his name) telling a homeless man to get up. "Sir, y'all have to get up sir. You can't lay here sir," he says.
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With the downtown business community complaining for years that the presence of homeless people is a nuisance, the city commission in April voted unanimously to modify the Pottinger agreement, which could again open up this population to more arrests. Hearings about the Pottinger modification are now winding their way toward conclusion in federal court.
In the meantime, asked whether he would pursue an investigation into the alleged thefts by green shirts, MHAP supervisor Sergio Torres first denied that his team did anything wrong, saying, "If we don't have a bed, we can't even talk to them." Then he admitted he'd been hearing about allegations of green shirt theft for years, but "I can't do anything about it unless I have proof of their allegations."