Since mid-April, the advocacy group Dream Defenders has operated a service site in Overtown, distributing food and clothes to the homeless and providing them with toilets and showers.
But after nearly two months, the organization's lease at St. John Missionary Baptist Church expires Sunday. With that deadline looming, Dream Defenders is asking the City of Miami to create another site where people experiencing homelessness can take a shower, use the bathroom, and clean their clothes during the day.
The Overtown site now sees about 100 people a day, according to Dream Defenders co-director Rachel Gilmer. While the group has been happy to help the community, Gilmer says the job of continuing those efforts should fall on the city.
"This is the role of government to help these people. We're pleading with the city to take it over," she says.
The service site was meant to go on for the foreseeable future, but Bishop James Adams, the pastor of St. John's, says there were some problems that led to the decision to end the agreement.
"I would say, with anything, there's always gonna be bumps in the road. We have had those," Adams says.
Adams tells New Times there were some issues with overflowing garbage at the site, as well as people breaking in overnight and stealing supplies. Nevertheless, he says he still supports Dream Defenders' mission and has no bad blood with the group.
"We had one gentleman who actually broke in and was arrested, and I thought that that was the straw that broke the camel’s back," he says.
The desire for the city to take on the project is part of a larger list of requests by Dream Defenders on a petition the organization has been sharing over the last few weeks.
The petition, with the heading "House Everyone Immediately," calls for city and county officials to take over the service site, to provide emergency long-term shelter for those who need it, and to work with Dream Defenders to set up long-term programs for the unsheltered.
Milton Vickers, director of Miami's Human Services Department, tells New Times the city is considering those requests. He declined to comment further.
Gilmer says city officials have said that too many homeless people in Miami are shelter-averse and actually want to stay on the street.
"I just kept hearing from the city that they're shelter-averse," Gilmer says. "Over the last month, we've found over 100 people saying they would go into a shelter right now."
On a recent afternoon at the Overtown service site, Cedric Walker was drying his clothes on one of the chain-link fences. Many of his belongings were soaked during the torrential rains from the previous weekend.
Walker was leaving that day to stay at the Red Roof Plus hotel after he was helped by a city employee at the site. The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust has a contract to use the hotel as an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. A few weeks ago, members of Dream Defenders demonstrated outside of the hotel in an attempt to place more homeless people in rooms there.
Walker said he had been trying to get into a shelter for some time, ever since he had to leave the Homeless Assistance Center after a death in the family.
"If I was offered shelter today, I would say yes and I would stay there until doomsday, or until I find my own place," Walker told New Times.
At the service site, a city employee was making several phone calls trying to secure housing for a homeless man who was sitting next to him. The employee had a list of names of the homeless people he was negotiating shelter for. He declined to speak with New Times, referring questions to the city.
Now that hurricane season is officially underway and Tropical Depression Cristobal lurks in the Gulf of Mexico, Dr. Armen Henderson, the director of health programs at Dream Defenders, tells New Times his priority is to get people sheltered before an emergency.
"We're more concerned with people during crisis situations like hurricanes. They should have a place to go during storms," says Henderson.
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