Florida is now, and always has been in the postcard business. Not literally, in the sense that postcard sales make up a significant portion of Florida’s economy — more in the sense that the state itself, at least the parts that are visible to tourists and outside money, should ideally look exactly as pictured on the postcards they see.
Florida gets nervous when rich people in Mercedes stop coming because of crappy old cars on the road. When that happens, they start taking poor peoples’ drivers’ licenses. If an out-of-state property investor complains about the neighbors’ yards, code enforcement shows up and starts writing tickets. And if homeless people commit the cardinal sin of spoiling some tourist’s picture-perfect view of Ft. Lauderdale…well, this happens.
On April 15th, 2014, the Ft. Lauderdale City Commission passed ordinance 14-0538, prohibiting “outdoor storage on public property.” Effectively, the law is designed to give police power to remove “homeless encampments” from public property…though, of course, its implications are much wider. Public property, as the law defines it, is primarily any “sidewalk, pedestrian pathway, swale, median, park, recreation facility” or anything else owned or leased by the city. Of course this includes the beaches, but that goes without mention for the homeless in Florida.
The law states that the police have the power to take any and all of the homeless persons’ possessions after a 24-hour notice. But, don’t call it “stealing all of a homeless person’s worldly belongings.” Oh, no. This is just the city very kindly offering “temporary storage” of said belongings, for which the city may very kindly charge a “reasonable storage fee” to recover. The homeless person may get a waiver from the Clerk’s office to have their property returned without paying a fee, provided that they can demonstrate to the clerk that they are unable to pay it.
It is not stated whether or not such demonstrations may include BEING HOMELESS, and more recently, being homeless WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A CARDBOARD BOX TO THEIR NAME. Perhaps they can just show a recent W-2 form, paycheck stub or cell phone bill. You’ve got two forms of photo ID, right?
Now, of course, you might say “They have 24 hours to move, the bums.” Well…sort of. There’s a provision in the law that allows officers to remove items immediately if they pose a “serious public health risk,” like containing explosives, flammable material, lice, vermin, rodents or…smelling bad? Yes, indeed; police in Ft. Lauderdale can immediately strip the blanket right from out from under a homeless person’s sleeping hindquarters if they determine that said homeless person doesn’t smell Downy fresh.
Of course, the same “exceptions” would likely include kerosene lamps, dogs and other pets, provided said pets can be demonstrated to have had fleas. And if said pets are found to have fleas, and the “storage fees” are not recovered within 30 days, they will simply be “disposed of” with the rest of the homeless person’s property.
Oh, and if the city decides there’s going to be a “city-wide clean-up,” they can just post a notice on the door at City Hall 36 hours beforehand. At 37 hours later, everything on the ground within city limits is immediately fair game through perpetuity, with no notice required.
Wonder how long it will be before that first “clean-up.” We’re betting Saturday.
Now, all that sounds pretty heartless — but don’t get the good people of Ft. Lauderdale wrong! They ABSOLUTELY care about the homeless! They’re even wrote into the bill pages and pages of delicate and beautiful prose about the city’s “Housing First” plan, which is modeled after San Francisco’s. Housing first will lift all those homeless people off the streets, and place them into amazing, air-conditioned homes where their dogs will never have fleas again. It worked so beautifully in San Fran and New York…these awful (but unfortunately necessary) clean-up ordinances should always be followed with the understanding that Ft. Lauderdale’s Housing First program will lift these poor people from the depths of desperation, and into the light of a better life. So, don’t feel bad about stealing that homeless man’s blanket, because he’ll be warm and comfy in his own home soon!
Oh, wait. One little thing first.
Ft. Lauderdale doesn’t HAVE a “Housing First” program.
At the moment, there is no legislation on the table to enact such a program, and no funds allotted to it. There are no dry and comfy homes to go to, and no specific plans to build any. Ft. Lauderdale just wants you to know that it’s really, really looking forward to helping the less fortunate of its citizens to live a better life. You know, after all those bums and their flea-bitten mutts are out of town.
The good people of Ft. Lauderdale make no bones about why they’re passing this law. It’s because, in their words, it’s because “activities associated with the homeless population often provide our neighbors with a diminished sense of security, and threaten the viability of businesses.” That, in itself tell you that this isn’t just about cleansing Ft. Lauderdale’s landscape of the detritus of homeless peoples’ ratty possessions — it’s about cleansing the city of human detritus itself. Why? Because that detritus is unpleasant reality, and Florida sells pleasing fantasies.
Those who have been to Ft. Lauderdale, your author included, can tell you that this law is not without reason. The city does have an enormous population of homeless sleeping on sidewalks, in parks and under the overpasses of Interstate 95. Every picture in this article was taken in Ft. Lauderdale, and there are plenty more like them. Ft. Lauderdale is a dream become a nightmare for so many…most come from failed homes and broken hopes in Miami, simply looking for a place to bed down where they won’t be killed by gangs. A trip to Ft. Lauderdale, like a trip to many picturesque Florida cities, is an education in the grim local reality sleeping just beneath our state’s postcard veneer.
It’s a lesson in how many broken souls it takes to make a Magic Kingdom.
But Florida relies on that lie, relies on that snapshot illusion of unspoiled perfection… that is the Floridian legislature’s sole obsession. What they don’t care about are the locals, the destitute, the starving, the drug-addicted and homeless — as long as those people stay safely out of sight, anyway. Live unnoticed and die quietly in the woods or the swamps if you must…but show up in any retiree’s vacation photos, and you will without doubt find yourself with the State’s complete and undivided attention.
Welcome to your postcard, America.
Do enjoy the weather.
h/t: Think Progress