You remember the famous poop map, right?
In downtown Miami, homelessness — and lack of bathroom space for the homeless — has long been a contentious issue. Back in May, a dispute between the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the agency tasked with promoting downtown business, and the leader of the county's Homeless Trust escalated. The DDA wanted the Trust to pay for toilets to alleviate the problem; Ron Book, the über-lobbyist at the head of the Trust, argued that his group's purpose was to provide money for shelters, not public bathrooms. One DDA board member, Jose Goyanes, said Book was "running the Trust like a third-world dictator."
And then the DDA unveiled another, more visceral instrument in the public relations battle: a map cataloging all the places downtown where human feces was found on the street, marked by smiling brown emojis.
After the public poop squabbling settled down, it was the city and the DDA — not Book's Homeless Trust — who ended up providing two public toilets, with a program called Pit Stop.
The program launched in October, and today the mayor and DDA are hosting a press conference to announce its success: In its first month, the agency says, the two "Pit Stop stations" were used 1,052 times.
The toilets, the city says, have kept waste off downtown streets — with "reports of public waste in the areas surrounding" the stations down from 100 in May to just 43 in November, a 57 percent reduction. Because of the program's effectiveness, the mayor is extending funding for another six months.
Book, for the record, hasn't changed his mind about the Trust's place in all this.
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"While I am terribly sympathetic with the downtown community and on the issue of people who inappropriately relieve themselves in public places," he tells New Times, "providing toilets isn't my responsibility."
Over the past two decades the Trust, he added, has reduced homelessness in Miami-Dade county by 90 percent — from over 8,000 people on the streets to now just over 1,000 — and it's only done so through a careful guarding of its limited resources.
"Does it bother me?" he said of the issue of feces downtown. "Yeah, it does, but that's a public health and a public works and downtown authority and city of Miami responsibility. I'm not the end all cure all of all ills in our community."
The press conference will be at 2 p.m. at Gesu Church on Northeast Second Street, an area last spring that was marked by among the highest clusters of the little brown emojis.