A Reprieve for the Liberty City Shantytown

The Miami City Commission is backing away from shutting down the homeless shantytown in Liberty City - at least for now.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones told the New Times on Monday that after visiting the shanty village - named Umoja, or "unity" in Swahili - she decided to nix a proposal that would have changed the rules on holding an "assembly" on public land, including vacant lots.

Max Rameau, organizer of Umoja, suspected that the city wanted to get rid of the village before the Super Bowl in February. The village - located at the corner of N.W. 62nd St. and N.W. 17th Ave. - has been home to about 40 homeless people since Oct. 23.

The fact that city officials pulled the proposed ordinance means that the village has support, said Rameau.

"We take it as a victory for our campaign," he said. "We do think this is a strategic retreat, not a change of position."

Spence-Jones said the ordinance -- which was removed form the Jan. 11 commission agenda last week -- had more to do with liability issues on public property.

"If a fire takes place, who becomes liable?" she said, citing the fact that many of the homeless living in the shanty shacks use candles as a means of nighttime illumination. "The city could get sued.

"I was really impressed that they came together to build this space," said Spence-Jones. "I understand the statement they are trying to make."

Rameau said there will be a rally/potluck dinner to support Umoja at 6 p.m. on Thursday. -

Tamara Lush

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