Miami is at odds over Bonker’s plan to relocate homeless people to hurricane-prone Virginia Key

As of Thursday night, it seemed like there couldn’t be a more exclusive place in Miami than the District 7 City Hall Zoom chat room.

As local officials, scientists and attorneys spoke during the hour-long call, Miamians angrily typed their thoughts on what has quickly become the biggest talking point in the area: the under-the-radar approval to pursue a pilot program for a Virginia Key homeless camp.

“This is going to be a bigger mistake than the Metro Rail system,” one commenter posted at 7:10 p.m. on chat in front of over 200 residents

While the full ramifications of the niche insult can only be enjoyed by anyone who has suffered from Miami’s illogical double-track rail system, it speaks volumes about public opinion about the plan to build up to 100 “little houses” on a historic barrier island with a tainted racial history . The camp plan has sparked outrage from all sorts of Miamians: environmentalists worried about destroying the island’s already endangered ecosystem, outdoor enthusiasts concerned about ruined recreational activities, and homeless advocates worried about the lack of infrastructure in the area around the… Sound the alarm at Rickenbacker Causeway. leaving displaced people without transport, sanitation and even access to food.

Not to mention, Virginia Key is just yards from two of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods — Key Biscayne and Fisher Island, a members-only island accessible only by boat and whose former residents include Oprah Winfrey and Derek Jeter and Mel Brooks.

Comments on the proposal in District 7’s Zoom chat soon took on an aggressive tone. “Are the homeless people being accommodated illegal immigrants, or will we accommodate homeless US citizens first?” commented a local resident. After getting a little agitated by another chat participant, they added, “If we’re spending taxpayers’ money not even caring about US citizens, we need a whole new focus.”

“Bad, bad idea. A bunch of dummies,” added a third.

“These ‘tiny homes’ would be up for rent on Airbnb in no time,” chimed in another as dozens of others flooded the chat.

The Zoom information on the project, organized by Miami Commissioner Raquel A. Regalado — a Republican whose district includes Virginia Key and Key Biscayne — was just a microcosm of the outrage that exploded in Miami after the motion, which ” Transition Zone” on Virginia Key was proposed by a 3-2 vote last Thursday.

“It’s so ridiculous from every angle.”

Commissioner Ken Russell, who voted against the plan, told The Daily Beast that the idea is not yet an official reality. In September it’s back to the five-member commission, where logistical information is presented and can be voted on at any time. Russell added that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has “the ability to veto actions by the city commission.”

“It’s embarrassing for the city,” Russell told The Daily Beast of the pilot plan. “It perpetuates that ‘don’t here, do it over there’ response from residents. This is not only the wrong place for this idea, but also the wrong solution.”

As of last Friday morning, over 13,000 people have signed an online petition against the plan, which they say has been “discreetly approved” just “48 hours after the public was notified”. Over the weekend, dozens of local residents took part in a “paddle protest” after droves of cyclists rallied against the camp.

The petition also came just days after social media was flooded with screenshots of a presentation by the city of Miami about the proposed camp for the “chronically homeless.” Online, Miami wasted no time in expressing its feelings about the plan — though it didn’t always seem to focus on the potential social, economic, environmental, and infrastructure problems with the proposal, instead digressing into “not in my backyard”-type comments.

“Well there goes Virginia Key,” one person wrote on Facebook Tuesday.

“Imagine seeing a homeless camp from your house,” added another.

In a memo Thursday to the Board of County Commissioners, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava expressed outrage at the isolated “proposed homeless camp,” which will face extreme weather conditions during hurricane season and pose potential conflicts with an already-approved city plan would turn Virginia Key into “Miami’s Central Park.”

“A pure protection zone like the proposed ‘transition zone’ will exacerbate the bottleneck created when insufficient safe and healthy, highly affordable housing options are available for the homeless,” Cava added in the memo on the plan’s impact on social services received by The Daily Beast.

Not to mention, Cava added, Virginia Key was Miami’s first black-only beach during the Jim Crow era.

A spokesman for Cava’s office told The Daily Beast that “the Virginia Key plan falls under the jurisdiction of the City of Miami…[and] Cava does not oversee city affairs, nor can she veto city plans.”

Residents and local officials interviewed by The Daily Beast also expressed outrage at the idea of ​​housing the homeless on a remote island that is home to only a Magnet public high school and a sewage treatment plant. The camp will also be built near several outdoor recreation areas, about two miles from the nearest bus stop — and six miles from a grocery store.

“The people who voluntarily join this plan have to walk down the freeway to even get to the nearest shop or bus stop.”

“It’s kind of crazy to get everyone in Miami to agree on something — and everyone agrees that’s a terrible idea,” Diana Perez, director of marketing and operations for the Virginia Key Outdoor Center, told The Daily beast “People are really crazy, man.”

Commissioner Joe Carollo, a Republican, first proposed the idea last October and was immediately met with backlash from homeless advocates. Around the same time, Carollo was also instrumental in passing a new encampment clearance ordinance — leading to an ongoing lawsuit against the City of Miami.

While Carollo didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, he did defend the plan to the Miami Herald and slammed critics who have compared the plan to Alcatraz. “Nobody wants that in their neighborhood, it’s always someone else they want to throw it at,” Carollo told the outlet.

Perez said she first learned of the plans to approve the pilot program early last week and was “shocked” to hear city officials identified Virginia Key as the “optimal location” for the camp because it is a ” secluded place”.

In the city presentation obtained by The Daily Beast, officials added that the open field at Virginia Key’s North Point Park would require a survey “for water and power connections” and that “all services must be performed on site.”

Other possible locations, according to the presentation notes, were an “already fenced…large lot” in Little River, a lot in Wynwood, and a spot near a homeless advocacy group near Overtown.

The proposal provided several storage structure options, such as a shed-like “little house” that would cost about $4,500 per unit, and a dormitory that “can be considered a ‘temporary’ environment than others.”

The open field is also directly across from Fisher Island — where residents had an average income of $2.2 million in 2020 and where the wealthy will now have an unobstructed view of the camp. When a reporter called the Fisher Island Beach Club, a private, members-only club located directly across from Virginia Key’s thin-water intersection, a receptionist said that “nothing has come out yet” to inform her guests about the proposed camp.

“We’re aware of the plan, that’s for sure,” added the receptionist.

Perez noted that the camp town is also adjacent to the Virginia Key Outdoor Center — which offers beaches, bike trails, and a summer camp that hundreds of locals and tourists flock to weekly. Now, she said, she’s heard from many residents that the idea that dozens of homeless people might live nearby discourages them from returning to the barrier island.

“Embarrassing for the city. It perpetuates that “not here, do it over there” response from residents. ”

“The plan is intended to target the chronically homeless population. These are people who are mostly adults with some form of substance abuse problems. mental health problems. These are people who have sometimes been kicked out of homes, whatever the problem,” Perez said. “Obviously, parents have concerns about sending their kids to a summer camp next door or even bringing their kids for a day at the beach.”

Andrea Connor also has the same security concerns. Connor, a resident of Key Biscayne for decades, told The Daily Beast that Virginia Key is “a place for families” where she often goes on bike rides. She also stressed her fear that the homeless population right by the dam would be housed in “camps like those from World War II.”

“It’s so ridiculous from every angle,” she said. “You cannot give something to someone and take from someone else. When you give to the homeless, you don’t take anything away from the families who use the recreation centers. There are countless other places in Homestead, in West Miami, that could be this instead.”

Adding that her feelings “reflect everyone she knows in Key,” Connor stressed that she “won’t come back like I used to” when the Virginia Key camp is built.

Homeless advocates in Miami are also sounding the alarm about the plan — some say the hasty proposal will upend years of successful work helping citywide housing. Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, said during Thursday’s town hall that that agency does not endorse the camp, noting that it failed to follow federal guidelines.

Key Biscayne Mayor Michael Davey also expressed anger at the project to The Daily Beast, noting that while he “understands that the city is just trying to provide a place for the homeless to transition,” the idea of ​​the Camp’s “now door” is pertinent. “Think about it: the people who volunteer to join this plan have to walk down the freeway to even get to the nearest shop or bus stop,” he added. “It’s just political theatre.”

But while Davey is convinced this plan won’t work, his mayoral running opponent isn’t so confident.

“I think ultimately it probably won’t happen,” Fausto Gomez told The Daily Beast. “But you can never count on something not happening in Miami.” Miami is at odds over Bonker’s plan to relocate homeless people to hurricane-prone Virginia Key


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