Miami city commissioners postponed the vote on a controversial ordinance that would make homeless encampments illegal, saying they wanted to talk with advocates to find a solution for the city’s homeless population.
“The reason we deferred it is to have a conversation with the activists,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Watson. “We’re going to wait to see what solutions might exist that work for everyone involved. We’re still trying to talk through the issue.”
The final vote on the ordinance, which had been set for Thursday, is now scheduled for Oct. 28. The ordinance passed 4-1 on the first vote in September.
“It’s great news,” said David Peery, an attorney and homeless advocate who was once without housing himself. “It gives us time to work with stakeholders to find a humane, just solution to ending homelessness that doesn’t involve arresting people simply for existing on the street.”
The ordinance would outlaw the presence of any temporary living structure, heating devices like camping stoves and grills and the “unauthorized accumulation of personal property” of up to three cubic feet. Under the ordinance, police would be able to arrest violators if they refused to go to a shelter.
Dozens of people protested the ordinance outside Miami City Hall on Thursday morning and later lined up for public comment to plead with commissioners to reject the proposed ordinance.
At one point during the public comment, Commissioner Joe Carollo jumped in and told speakers that if they want to house the homeless, they should each adopt a homeless person in their own homes. When the crowd jeered him, he accused speakers of hypocrisy and said that his ordinance is meant to address complaints from residents who want to keep sidewalks clear and public spaces clean.
The commission later ended public comment, saying that anyone else who wished to speak should come back for the ordinance’s vote in two weeks.
“This commission is talking about homeless people like they’re animals,” Dr. Armen Henderson, a doctor at the University of Miami who works with the homeless population, told the protesters. “If there are no options for people sleeping on the street, how can we criminalize people for being there?”
Commissioner Ken Russell, the only no vote on the first vote on the measure, thanked members of the public for their activism.
“It’s very important to recognize the wins today,” he said to the homeless advocates. “The item you cared about was deferred. ... This was a good morning.”