Police Now Shuffling Tent City Sex Offenders Around Miami-Dade

The "Tent City" sex offender encampment near Hialeah was dismantled in early May.
The "Tent City" sex offender encampment near Hialeah was dismantled in early May. Photo by Isabella Gomes
In 2009, California artist Scott Gairdner made the "Sex Offender Shuffle," a viral video parodying Miami-Dade's treatment of sex offenders. With a catchy beat and '80s-style cinematography, the four-minute spoof of the 1985 Chicago Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle" mocked the way sex offenders are shuffled from one location to another under the guise of public safety.

Nine years later, the sex offender shuffle is playing out in real life in Miami-Dade. After being forced to leave a longtime encampment near Hialeah, a group of homeless sex offenders was kicked out of its new location near the airport over the weekend.

"There's no solution," says Frank Diaz, a pastor who ministers to the affected offenders. "They're just sweeping them from one place to another."

The evictions date back to March, when the county gave notice to about 100 homeless sex offenders living at an encampment alongside railroad tracks near Hialeah that they had until May 6 to vacate the area. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Legal Services of Greater Miami filed a lawsuit challenging the county's overnight camping ordinances but lost their first court hearing. The residents of "Tent City" were forced to leave in early May.

After the hearing, the offenders' lawyer, Jeffrey Hearne, accurately predicted the decision would simply create new encampments of homeless sex offenders.

"They'll most likely be relocating to another street corner," Hearne told the Miami Herald.

So in mid-May, a group of former Tent City residents moved to a location off NW 37th Avenue just northeast of Miami International Airport. But last weekend, Diaz says, police stationed themselves in the area and informed the offenders they couldn't stay there either.

"When I ask [the offenders] where they're going, they say, 'We don't know,'" Diaz tells New Times. "They've been split up as the Tent City that we saw, and now there's like four different locations where they're residing."

Many critics, including the ACLU, say the county's restrictive residency requirements are to blame. The Lauren Book Child Safety Ordinance — championed by Florida Sen. Lauren Book's father: Homeless Trust chair and mega-lobbyist Ron Book — prevents child sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of places where children congregate, such as schools and parks. (The rule is far more restrictive than the more standard statewide law requiring them to live 1,000 feet away.)

In a contentious interview earlier this month with CBS's Jim DeFede, Ron Book shifted the blame to the offenders by arguing they "shouldn't be homeless."

He told DeFede: "They need to work to find places to live."

Book later added he'd "be happy to encourage" life imprisonment for child sex offenders as an alternative to the current housing debacle.

Until a long-term solution is found, Tent City residents will continue to do the sex offender shuffle.

"They're in that limbo, and they keep being brushed away," Diaz says. "I'm not condoning their crimes, but we're humans. We've got to have a little bit of compassion. Let's find a place and put them in housing so they can have some kind of hope to return to society." 
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.