Moldy Christmas

Moldy Christmas
Filed under: News

Sweet baby Jesus would be so proud of the people running New Life Shelter for Homeless Families, which is operated by Catholic Charities, a nonprofit social service division of the Archdiocese of Miami. The fifteen-room facility in Wynwood provides downtrodden families with rooms for $200 a month, plus programs to help them get back on their feet.

On Tuesday, December 12, New Life director Wilton Escarmant evicted Shantaa Smith and Carissa Blankenship, two single mothers who were protesting the mold infestation that is plaguing the building. "They're throwing us out two weeks before Christmas," Smith groused.

Smith and her son had moved into the center in November. At first everything seemed fine. But when Smith began complaining about the mold and alleging mistreatment by center employees, she was pegged a troublemaker. But the 26-year-old wasn't the only outraged resident.

Blankenship, a New Life resident for the past seven months, repeatedly harangued facility supervisors about the mold. Employees made superficial corrections, such as repainting the walls, or moved people into other rooms.

"The mold would seep right through the new coat," Blankenship said as she gave a tour of her bathroom shower stall, where mold had spread behind the wall tile and across the ceiling.

Takinda and Mikell Byrd moved in four months ago. The couple has four children: three toddlers and a one-month-old. Mold caused health problems for the entire family, they say. "We had to put the kids on nebulizers," Mikell said. In November their newborn wound up in Jackson Memorial Hospital's emergency room, where the child was diagnosed with a staph infection. According to the follow-up medical report from the Holtz Children's Hospital at Jackson, the physicians cited mold spore exposure as a possible cause.

On December 11, Smith circulated a petition condemning their living accommodations. The same day, Smith and Blankenship received eviction notices from Escarmant stating the two women had verbally abused other residents, failed to treat staff with respect and courtesy, and failed to comply with the rules of the program. New Life also demanded they pay back rent: $600 from Smith, $400 from Blankenship.

During an interview with Smith and Blankenship this past Tuesday morning, Escarmant appeared and demanded the women leave the premises immediately. "I want the two of you off the property," he snarled. He ignored questions from New Times, as did other center employees.

According to Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta: "On average, families are only supposed to stay for six months. These two families had stayed beyond that time and broke the rules. So we asked them to leave."

And what about the potentially toxic mold? "Every family is responsible for cleaning their rooms," Agosta replied. "The mold exists because of a lack of cleanliness by the clients."

Smith and Blankenship scoffed at Agosta's response. "That's just ridiculous," Blankenship retorted. — Francisco Alvarado

Running for Cover
Filed under: Culture

As the thousands of runners who registered for the inaugural Nike Run Hit Remix Miami descended on the Miami Beach Convention Center this past Thursday, the mild evening was infused with nervous energy. Dressed in shorts and Nike-issued baby blue race T-shirts, participants eagerly strapped on race chips — used to accurately record results — and excitedly jostled for pole position at the starting line.

The 4000 competitors seemed pumped to embark on the five-mile race through Collins Park, south along the boardwalk, and onto the sand. At that moment, the finish line on the beach at 22nd Street didn't seem far away. Motivating runners along the route were Nineties musical mainstays on various stages: Coolio, Vanilla Ice, Digital Underground, and headliners De La Soul.

Shortly after 8:00 p.m., as local jazz singer Nicole Henry's rousing rendition of the National Anthem came to an end, the racers took off.

And as if on cue, it began to rain. Not just a drizzle — this was one of the heaviest downpours Miami has seen in months.

The scene quickly turned into a soggy mass of drenched runners plodding dutifully along the water-logged streets and sodden sands of South Beach. And for those who haven't tried it, running on wet sand is about as easy and enjoyable as tearing off a toenail with your teeth.

But as evidenced by the proud smiles that each of the medal-touting finishers exuded, the runners seemed happy, especially the ones who withstood the ferocious rain long enough to snag a free beer and a Jamba Juice smoothie before fleeing for drier land. — Joanne Green

Ript from the Blogs
Here's a Tip
One glaring difference between Starbucks and McDonald's is that many Starbucks have a tip jar on the counter, whereas McDonald's (probably the king of franchises) has those clear plastic donation boxes with proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Why do so many people feel the need to tip when there's a tip jar but not drop chump change into these donation boxes?
Taken from: Sleepless in South Florida (

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.
Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.
Joanne Green