Last week, the Miami City Commission voted unanimously to expand a controversial "no-panhandling zone" surrounding the American Airlines Arena and the Adrienne Arsht Center. "This isn't a homeless issue," Commissioner Marc Sarnoff told Riptide of the revised law. "It's a panhandling issue."
Why are we getting the feeling that the very opposite of that statement is true?
The bulk of Miami's homeless have gathered and lived downtown for decades. But before the season started, the newly-relevant Miami Heat lobbied hard for the city to do something about the homeless around the American Airlines Arena.
From June through October, Heat director of security Bob Hundevadt conducted surveys of people leaving the stadium after concerts. He then sent a report to the city, filled with complaints about the homeless presence around the arena. They are not exactly tolerant or enlightened comments: (all sic'd)
To many bums sleeping on the street it was very scary
Was not aware of the homeless people in the vicinity of the area. They were right in the area where needed to park. Was frightened. Actually ran full speed to the arena...
Miami is a third world city and the abomination known as parking around the Triple A... continues to frighten even the most fearless person. Between the chaos of cars, the poorly lit lots and streets and the mass of homeless people, parking and walking to the Arena always makes attending events here a negative experience.
Mucha gente pobre alrededor. (Many poor people around.)
You get the idea. It should be noted that nobody interviewed said one thing about panhandling, but only the presence of homeless people.
Ours being the type of pandering politicians who will give a sweet taxpayer-funded stadium deal to a miserly baseball team raking in profits, of course the Miami City Commission took the Miami Heat's lobbying efforts very seriously.
Less than a month after Hundevadt sent in his report, the commission voted to nearly double the no-panhandling zone Downtown. The closest a beggar can now legally get to the arena is under a I-95 overpass on Northwest Third Avenue, one mile away.
What's more, cops prowling the area have now become vagrant-seeking missiles. Before the home opener, Miami police launched "Get it Done", an arrest initiative around the stadium. According to CBS4, they arrested more than 150 people on charges usually associated with homelessness. They've continued to make the arrests before every home game. Right now, city cops are playing far better defense than the Heat players.
The expanded no-panhandling zone gives cops carte blanche to banish any homeless person away from the arena area for fear of arrest. We are not talking about a contingent of people who have means to strong legal defense. The new law is essentially Arizona's SB1070 for the homeless community.
Sarnoff threw a lot of sound bites and brow-furrowing claims at us when we questioned him about the expanded zone. One of them was that "most beggars have homes." When pressed for the study that revealed that, Sarnoff said that those caught up in the panhandling arrest sweeps had given cops addresses to put on their reports.
Micky Arison's BFF also readily admitted that the panhandling offensive was a direct result of the Heat revamping their roster with LeBron James and Chris Bosh and becoming a lucrative commodity. "This is Miami's time to shine!" Sarnoff told us. "The rest of the U.S. isn't doing very well, and Miami is doing extremely well."
The ACLU of Florida's Howard Simon calls the anti-panhandling law an "anti-homeless policy". That's exactly right.
If Sarnoff and the rest of the City Commission want to get their Mayor Giuliani on and sweep those scary bums away from Downtown's shiny new draw, they should at least be straightforward about it.
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We've embedded Hundevadt's report below, and the entire legislation is viewable online.