Pottinger Settlement: Homeless Lose Rights

An agreement reached Wednesday takes some rights away from Miami's homeless population and sets a two-year moratorium during which the city won't be able to modify a landmark 1998 federal consent decree, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced late Thursday.

Sex offenders will no longer be protected, and makeshift tents on public property will be disallowed, as will cooking fires.

Overall, though, the agreement kept in place the heart of the so-called Pottinger settlement, which followed years of abuse of the homeless, including burning of their possessions by abusive cops.

"The modified agreement is something that Miami residents should be proud of," said Benjamin Waxman, an attorney who worked on the case for years, "and prevents a return to the failed policy of criminalizing homelessness that led to the widespread violation of people's rights without even solving the core problem."

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

Waxman said the modification contained "mostly good but some bad" consequences for the homeless.

The ACLU stated:

"An addendum to the original Agreement, filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, keeps in place critical protections for homeless people in Miami and gives new programs to counter homelessness a chance to succeed."

See also: Video Shows City Workers Harassing Miami's Homeless

A key stipulation of the revised settlement, according to the ACLU's document, is that it "puts a two-year moratorium on further motions by the city to modify the agreement to allow 'Housing First' efforts to solve the issue of homelessness in the city to have a chance to succeed."

Waxman, who has been the ACLU's lead counsel in the case, added, "The addendum filed today, plus the moratorium on new efforts to strip protections for homeless people, will keep the balance that has protected people from police harassment for 15 years while allowing downtown Miami to undergo the renaissance it is currently enjoying. It recognizes that Miami can be a world-class city and international travel destination while still protecting the rights of the most vulnerable people in the city and giving strategies to dramatically reduce chronic homelessness a chance to take hold."

Maria Kayanan, associate legal director for the ACLU of Florida, noted Housing First was "a proven, fact-based, and humane solution to chronic homelessness, the opportunity to make a difference in our community.

"Miami-Dade County's Homeless Trust is already implementing the program, which is far better for our community than the changes originally proposed by the city," she added. "Addressing homelessness through the criminal justice system is counterproductive."

The Miami City Commission unanimously voted on April 9 to pursue modifying the settlement, which had been finalized in 1998 with the intent of protecting homeless people from being arrested for 11 categories of behavior -- sleeping, cooking, bathing, and others -- that they can't help but perform in public because of their homeless condition. According to one proponent of the modification, attorney Jay Solowski, who represented the city's Downtown Development Authority in the case pro bono, Miami's homeless had come to represent "the single most significant issue we are facing downtown."

Before Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who has overseen the case going back to its original settlement, can approve the mediated agreement, at least two steps remain. A public hearing following a 30-day public comment period for the homeless, who are the class represented from the original action, is mandated, according to University of Miami University law professor Stephen Schnably. The modified settlement will have to be approved by the Miami City Commission before the judge's final approval.

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Jeff Weinberger