Miami is tearing apart over Bonkers plan to relocate homeless to hurricane-prone island Virginia Key

On Thursday night, it looked like there was no more exclusive place in Miami than the District 7 Town Hall’s Zoom chat room.

As local officials, scientists and advocates spoke during the hour-long conversation, Miami residents furiously typed their thoughts on what has quickly become the biggest talking point in the region: the under-the-radar approval to pursue a pilot program for a homeless encampment in Virginia Key.

“It will be a bigger mistake than the Metro Rail system,” one commenter posted in the chat to more than 200 residents at 7:10 p.m.

While the full effects of the niche insult can only be appreciated by anyone who has suffered from Miami’s illogical two-line rail system, it speaks volumes about public sentiment around the project to erect up to 100″ little houses” on a historic barrier island. with a stained racial history. The encampment plan has sparked outrage from all types of Miamian: environmentalists who fear destroying the island’s already threatened ecosystem, outdoor enthusiasts concerned about crumbling recreational activities, and advocates for the homeless. shelter that are sounding the alarm about the lack of infrastructure in the area off Rickenbacker Causeway, which could deprive displaced people of means of transport, sewage systems and even access to food.

Not to mention, Virginia Key is just yards from two of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Key Biscayne and Fisher Island, a members-only island accessible only by boat whose former residents include Oprah Winfrey, Derek Jeter and Mel Brooks. .

Comments on the proposal in the District 7 Zoom chat quickly took on an aggressive tone. “Are the homeless people who are going to be housed illegal immigrants or are we going to house homeless American citizens first?” commented a resident. After taking some heat from another chat participant, they added, “If we’re putting taxpayers’ money to not even take care of American citizens, we have to completely refocus.”

“Bad, bad idea. Bunch of suckers,” added a third.

“These ‘Tiny homes’ would be up for rent on Airbnb in no time,” added another as dozens more flooded the chat.

The Zoom briefing on the project, hosted by Miami Commissioner Raquel A. Regalado — a Republican whose district includes Virginia Key and Key Biscayne — was just a microcosm of the outrage that exploded in Miami after the motion to pilot the “transition zone” in Virginia Key was proposed in a 3-2 vote last Thursday.

It’s so ridiculous from every angle.

Commissioner Ken Russell, who voted against the plan, told The Daily Beast that the idea is not yet officially a reality. In September, it will return to the five-person commission, where logistical information will be presented and can be voted on at any time. Russell added that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has the “ability to veto any action by the city commission.”

“It’s embarrassing for the city,” Russell told The Daily Beast of the pilot plan. “It perpetuates this reaction of the inhabitants of the type ‘not here, do it there’. It’s not only that this isn’t the right place for this idea, but it’s the wrong solution.

Since last Friday morning, more 13,000 people have signed an online petition against the plan which they say was “quietly approved” only “48 hours after informing the public”. During the weekendDozens of residents took part in a “protest paddle” after masses of cyclists staged a rally against the encampment.

The petition also came just days after social media was flooded with screenshots of a presentation by the City of Miami on the “chronically homeless” encampment project. Online, Miami wasted no time in venting its feelings about the plan, though it didn’t always seem to focus on the proposal’s potential social, economic, ecological and infrastructural issues and rather misplaced in “not in my backyard” type comments.

“Well, there goes Virginia Key,” one person wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

“Imagine seeing a homeless encampment from your house,” added another.

In a Thursday memo to the Board of County Commissioners, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava expressed outrage at the isolated “proposed homeless encampment,” which would be subject to extreme weather conditions for hurricane season and would potentially conflict with an already approved city plan. to revitalize Virginia Key in “Miami’s Central Park”.

“A designated shelter zone like the proposed ‘transition zone’ will exacerbate the bottleneck created when there are not enough extremely affordable safe and healthy housing options for homeless people,” Cava added. about the implications of the plan on social services in the memo. obtained by The Daily Beast.

Not to mention, Cava added, that Virginia Key was the first black-only beach in Miami during the Jim Crow era.

A spokesperson for Cava’s office told The Daily Beast that “Virginia Key’s plan is within the jurisdiction of the City of Miami…[and] Cava does not oversee city affairs, nor can it veto city plans. »

Residents and local officials interviewed by The Daily Beast also expressed outrage at the idea of ​​placing homeless people on an isolated island that is home only to a magnetic public high school and sewage treatment plant. The camp will also notably be set up near several outdoor recreation areas about two miles from the nearest bus stop and six miles from a grocery store.

People who voluntarily adhere to this plan will have to walk along the highway to even get to the nearest store or bus stop.

“It’s kind of crazy to get everyone in Miami to agree on something — and everyone agrees it’s a terrible idea,” said Diana Perez, director of marketing and operations at Virginia Key Outdoor. Center, at the Daily Beast. “People are really crazy, man.”

Commissioner Joe Carollo, a Republican, first proposed the idea last October and was met with immediate backlash from homeless advocates. Around the same time, Carollo was also instrumental in passing a new ordinance to clean up tent camps –which resulted in an ongoing lawsuit against the City of Miami.

Although Carollo did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, he defended the plan to the Miami Herald and slammed critics who compared the plan to Alcatraz. “Nobody wants that in their neighborhood, it’s always someone else who wants to throw it away,” Carollo told the outlet.

Perez said she first learned of the pilot program’s approval projects early last week and was “shocked” to hear city officials identify Virginia Key as “the optimal location” for the camp, because it is an “isolated place”.

In the presentation of the city obtained by The Daily Beastofficials added that while in the open field at Virginia Key North Point Park, an investigation would be required “for water and electrical connections” and that “all services must be provided” on site.

Other possible locations, the pitch notes, were an “already fenced…large lot” in Little River, a lot in Wynwood and a space near a homeless advocacy group near Overtown.

The proposal included several options for encampment structures, such as a shed-like “little house” that would cost around $4,500 per unit, and a dormitory that “may be considered a more ‘temporary’ setting than others” .

The open field is also directly across from Fisher Island, where residents of 2020 had an average income of $2.2 million and where the rich will now have an unobstructed view of the encampment. When a reporter called the Fisher Island Beach Club, a private members-only club that sits just across Virginia Key’s thin water cut, a receptionist said “nothing has come out yet” in terms of advice to their guests on the proposed campsite. .

“We are aware of the plan, that’s for sure,” added the receptionist.

Perez noted that the camp town location is also next to the Virginia Key Outdoor Center, which is home to beaches, bike trails and a summer camp where hundreds of locals and tourists flock each week. Now, she said, she has heard many locals say the thought that dozens of homeless people might be residing nearby has them thinking about returning to the barrier island.

It’s embarrassing for the city. It perpetuates that “not here, do it there” reaction from locals.

“The plan is supposed to target the chronically homeless population. These are people who are, most of the time, adults with some form of substance abuse issues. Mental health problems. These are people who have been evicted from their homes at times, regardless of the issue,” Perez said. “Of course, parents fear sending their children to a nearby summer camp, or even bringing their children for a day at the beach.”

Andrea Connor also has the same concern for security. A resident of Key Biscayne for decades, Connor told The Daily Beast that Virginia Key is “a place for families” where she often takes bike rides. She also highlighted her fear that the homeless population would be housed right next to the causeway in “camps like those in World War II”.

“It’s so ridiculous from every angle,” she said. “You can’t give to someone and take from someone else. If you give to the homeless, you don’t take away from the families who use the recreation centers. There are tons of other places in Homestead, West Miami it could be instead.

Connor added that her feelings reflect “everyone she knows in Key”, and pointed out that if camp is built in Virginia Key, she “won’t be going back like before”.

Homeless advocates in Miami are also sounding the alarm over the plan, with some saying the hasty proposal will end years of successful work to help relocate people across the city. Ron Book, president of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, said at Thursday’s town hall that the agency does not support the encampment and noted that it does not meet federal guidelines.

Key Biscayne Mayor Michael Davey also expressed his anger about the project to The Daily Beast, noting that while he “understands the city is just trying to provide a transitional place for the homeless”, the he idea of ​​camp “now door” is concerning. “Think about it: people who voluntarily join this plan will have to walk along the highway to even get to the nearest store or bus stop,” he added. “It’s just political theater.”

But while Davey is confident that plan won’t come to fruition, his mayoral opponent isn’t so confident.

“I think in the end it’s probably not going to happen,” Fausto Gomez told The Daily Beast. “But you can never bet on something that’s not happening in Miami.”

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