Downtown Miami tackling homeless problem: panel

Portable toilet program extended until October amid search for more funding

Feb.February 12, 2016 06:00 PM

Downtown Miami

UPDATED 2/14/16 11 a.m. Last May, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust engaged in a public battle over the number of homeless in the city’s urban core. The spat generated national headlines when the DDA commissioned a map that marked the areas around downtown where homeless people defected, with the “poop” emoji.

Nine months later, the two groups have reached some common ground, Rolando Montoya, Miami Dade College provost who serves as chairman of the DDA homeless task force, told an audience attending a homeless forum organized by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

Montoya was part of a panel that also included Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya, Chapman Partnership Chairman Carlos Fernandez-Guzman, and Adrian Mesa, a psychiatric nurse practitioner for Camillus House.

“The conversations with the homeless trust are not always super cordial,” Montoya said. “But the relationship has improved enormously. The trust is paying a lot more attention to the homeless in downtown Miami and we are happy about that.”

The DDA continues to tackle downtown Miami’s homeless problem on several fronts, Montoya said. For instance, the DDA said the city was able to extend the portable toilet program in downtown Miami until October. The temporary public bathrooms went into service in November and had originally been set to end in April. Montoya said the DDA is also searching for funding sources to add more portable toilets in downtown.

In addition, the DDA wants to launch campaigns targeting homeless people to make them aware of job training programs and benefits for which they are entitled, he said.

However, the panelists also noted the great difficulty in convincing downtown’s homeless to accept assistance. Fernandez-Guzman said beds at the downtown Miami shelter that are reserved for nightly placement of homeless people required under a 1992 federal ruling against the city are underutilized.

“In 2015, only 39 percent of the 730 available beds were used,” Fernandez-Guzman said. “The year before, it was 26 percent. In 2013, it was 16 percent.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had incorrect percentages for available beds used in 2014 and 2013.

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