It's Christmas! City Employees Take Homeless People's Property, and Now Police Are Helping

Kevin Henderson stood on top of his pink blanket and yelled at the officers and city employees who wanted it confiscated. The homeless Miami resident with a gray-streaked goatee demanded to know why six squad cars' worth of officers had descended upon a quiet part of NW 18th Street and started throwing away cardboard bedding, winter clothing, and James Patterson books. He knew if he didn't keep his feet firmly planted on the comforter, they would take it too.

"I kept yelling, 'What did I do wrong?" the 38-year-old says. "It was like a goddamn Mexican standoff."

Although Henderson wasn't breaking any law, he didn't win yesterday afternoon's standoff. About 15 homeless people had most if not all of their possessions tossed into a heap and hauled away.

See Also: Pottinger Settlement: Homeless Lose Rights

Eight days ago, New Times freelancer Jeff Weinberger reported that workers from the Miami's Homeless Assistance Program were confiscating items from the same homeless people, one block over on NW 17th Street. Now those same alleged victims claim the program employees -- known as "green shirts" -- returned in retaliation for the article, this time with coordinated police support.

Henderson -- who was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital, just a stone's throw from his now-favored sleeping spot -- says the officer who patrols the area is typically polite. But yesterday, Officer Castillo and a handful of his cohorts arrived and took pictures of homeless people without consent. Clutching a can of Sam's Club cola in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Henderson explains that in the past, he's been hassled only for sleeping on the sidewalk past 10 a.m. or for letting garbage pile up, and he's careful now to keep himself in check.

See Also: Homeless say City Workers Are Stealing Their Stuff

Robert, a trim and tanned man who didn't want to give his last name, says he and his girlfriend, Vicki Perez, keep their patch of sidewalk as clean as can be expected. As he puts it: "You wouldn't want a bunch of shit in your living room, and this our living room." Indeed, there are many brooms in sight at the makeshift camp.

As New Times previously reported, a 1998 case settlement agreement dictates that homeless people cannot have their possessions confiscated by the law. They also cannot be approached by police if they aren't committing a crime, unless it's to offer shelter. The so-called Pottinger settlement protected the city's homeless while they performed tasks in public, such as cooking and sleeping. Still, Henderson says this is the fourth time someone from the city has taken his property.

See also: Homeless People Say City Workers Are Stealing Their Stuff

Henderson says cop cars arrived and blocked off the street like a homicide crime scene before taking garbage bags full of possessions from him and his friends. The ones who weren't there to protect themselves got it the worst, he says, such as one gentleman who would later return from an appointment to find his walker gone.

"There's no justification for taking our stuff. It doesn't solve the reason of why we got here," Henderson says. "In my mind, it's just cruel and unusual."

Additional reporting by Jeff Weinberger.

Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.