Prevent Criminalization of Miami’s Homeless


Target: Marc Sarnoff, Miami City Commissioner

Goal: End a plan to criminalize Miami’s homeless

Marc Sarnoff, a Miami City Commissioner, wants to criminalize homelessness in his city. Recently, Sarnoff has proposed that the city jail people without homes for engaging in diverse behavior including “cook(ing) meals in public areas, blocking sidewalks, littering, reliving themselves in public and lewd conduct.” Though couched in promoting public order and relieving what Sarnoff calls a “chronic problem” facing the city, these new measures would brand those without roofs over their heads as criminals for the first time in fifteen years.

Sarnoff hopes to modify a 1998 agreement in the case of Pottinger v. City of Miami recognizing homelessness as something that should be treated with compassion rather than arrest. Pottinger, notes ThinkProgress, directed police “not to address homeless people they caught committing minor “quality of life” offenses, but instead offer them a bed in a nearby homeless shelter…the number of people living on the streets has (since) dropped from approximately 6,000 to 351.” Instead of continuing a successful and humane approach recognizing the homeless as needing assistance, the new modifications Sarnoff is proposing would effectively re-criminalize them.

The city of Miami should reject this approach and continue to shelter those without homes instead of jail them. What is needed is additional financial support to address shelter crowdedness, not a return to the days of imprisonment. By signing this petition, you will ask Commissioner Sarnoff to drop his plan to criminalize homelessness in Miami.


Dear Commissioner Sarnoff,

Recently, you have announced your support of measures which would effectively re-criminalize homelessness in Miami. You have stated you wish to modify the 1998 agreement in Pottinger v. City of Miami directing police to offer shelter to those without a roof over their heads who commit “quality of life” offenses instead of jailing them.

Though your support of changing Pottinger is done in the name of relieving what you call a “chronic problem” in the city of Miami, it does so at the expense of more humane options that recognize those without roofs over their heads as needing assistance and not imprisonment. ThinkProgress noted in a July 16 report that “In the 15 years since Pottinger, the number of people living on the streets has dropped from approximately 6,000 to 351, largely due to more shelters and support.” Though shelters in Miami may be filled, simply returning to the days of imprisoning those with no shelter is a shortsighted approach.

I urge you to drop your plan to re-jail the homeless in Miami and instead concentrate on measures to provide more funding and support for additional shelters. Living without having a home should not be a crime.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: ImageMD via Flickr

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One Comment

  1. Dr. Rolando Montoya says:

    This post does not present an accurate exposition of the facts. Miami has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of homeless people on the city’s streets since the Pottinger agreement was crafted. This is due to many factors, largely the work of the Homeless Trust, which receives more than $42 million a year in taxes and government grants. The Trust funds agencies that provide thousands of apartment and emergency beds to house the homeless. Pottinger has NOT worked for the chronic homeless who have been on the streets for many years, even decades. They are a subset of the homeless population, often with severe mental illness and the effects of long-term drug abuse.

    Pottinger was designed to provide safeguards for the thousands of homeless people, including many families with children, who were living on the streets. The situation has improved dramatically in 15 years. But the protections deemed necessary then allow the remaining homeless to engage in actions not permissible to any other citizen.

    The Homeless Task Force of the Downtown Development Authority, which I chaired, made 17 recommendations, including additional beds, coordinated outreach, case management, outpatient treatment and reviewing the Pottinger settlement. The City of Miami, the Downtown Development Authority and many other organizations are working to provide housing and treatment for the homeless. No one is seeking to criminalize homelessness. Allegations to the contrary are at best a misunderstanding of the facts.

    A federal judge will ultimately decide whether there should be modifications to Pottinger that reflect the realities of today, not those of 1998.

    Dr. Rolando Montoya
    Miami Dade College

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