Miami commissioner proposes ‘adopt-a-homeless’ program, causing uproar among activists

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Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo is formally proposing the creation of an “adopt-a-homeless” program, suggesting citizens could alleviate homelessness by bringing homeless people into their own homes.

The idea, which Carollo proposed — seemingly sarcastically — at a recent commission meeting while criticizing activists, is now a formal resolution on the agenda for the City Commission’s Oct. 28 meeting.

“If there are as many kind-hearted people out there as some claim to be out there, I would expect them to step up,” he said Wednesday.

Carollo told the Miami Herald he’s making a serious proposal that “could be a solution.”

But the resolution has sparked outrage among homeless advocates in the city.

“This can not in any way be a serious proposal,” said David Peery, an attorney who works with homeless people, who was once homeless himself.

“Commissioner Carollo is distracting attention away from a very serious problem that we have with homelessness in our city ... It feels intended to make fun of activists,” he said, adding that the resolution was taking away from having a “substantive discussion” about solutions to end homelessness.

Carollo, who is running for reelection on Nov. 2, compared his approach to the way the state handles foster care for children, and he said the city could find money for those who take in homeless people. The resolution suggests asking the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust for funds.

The proposal comes after a contentious exchange with activists during public comment at the Oct. 14 commission meeting, where commissioners were set to vote on a controversial ordinance that would outlaw homeless encampments, allowing for violators to be arrested. Carollo has argued that the encampment ban is a response to resident complaints about sidewalks blocked by tents and furniture used by people living on the street.

The vote on the encampment ban was postponed by two weeks, with commissioners saying they needed more time to speak with activists to come up with alternative solutions. It is scheduled to be heard again the same day as the “adopt-a-homeless” program.

After dozens of people lined up for public comment to protest the ordinance on Oct. 14, Carollo suggested that people advocating on behalf of homeless people should “adopt a homeless” themselves, causing the crowd to jeer at him.

“Well, I certainly got the hornets’ nest going,” he said at the activists yelling at him in City Hall. “I’m sick of this hypocrisy.”

The new resolution would “provide aid to the homeowners in the city that are willing to assist the local homeless population by welcoming a homeless individual into their home to live with them by providing a bed and daily essentials such as food, electricity and any other necessities as deemed appropriate by the program at no cost to the city.”

“Even if all the activists in Miami were to adopt one homeless person it would be a drop in the bucket in addressing the greater issues,” said Adrian Madriz, the executive director of Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing, a nonprofit group that says that the city is criminalizing homelessness. “It’s not citizens’ responsibility to be individually providing the social programs and services that we pay taxes for and elect commissioners and a mayor to develop and implement. That is their job.”

David Winker, an attorney and housing rights advocate, said he’d sign up for the program.

“Sign me up,” he said. “It would really be a statement to have a tent in our front yards, showing that we as private citizens have to do something to address this issue. It shows the city isn’t doing its job.”

Commissioner Ken Russell, who voted against Carollo’s encampment ban when it first came to a vote, told the Herald that the city does not need to come up with new concepts to help the homeless population.

“In the City of Miami, 500 units of permanent supportive housing would get people out of shelters, which in turn would take more people off the street,” Russell said. “We have the land and we have the funds and I hope to work with my fellow commissioners on proven solutions that we can implement now.”

Carollo rejected the concept on Wednesday, saying it would be too costly and unfair to residents living in expensive substandard housing who have been waiting for a better option in an unaffordable market.

“How could I tell people that live in Little Havana, Little Haiti, Allapattah, Liberty City and Flagami that we can’t build housing for them, who have been working, struggling to pay ridiculous rents?” he said. “But we’re going to build housing for people living in the streets?”

Though he insisted on Wednesday his proposal was serious, Carollo has previously used the commission agenda to make a show of his viewpoint.

In May 2018, when he opposed Mayor Francis Suarez’s “strong mayor” campaign to become the city’s top administrator, Carollo sponsored a dozen different ballot questions asking voters if the city should change its form of government. The proposals ranged from minute changes to unrealistically dramatic upheaval — one option would have eliminated the whole city commission and the city manager, leaving just the elected mayor to run the whole city and make policy.

All of those proposed ballot questions were withdrawn prior to a vote.

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