Category Archives: Homelessness

Identifying Signs of Urban Life: Retail Activity (Parkwest’s Woes)

Image: The Marquis (left) and ten Museum Park (right)

This installment was supposed to be about Brickell Village, but I shuffled the order a bit and decided to start my retail potential focus at the center of the Core.

Parkwest has many problems. Let’s address them in no particular order:

Image: Greyhound Station with the Marquis tower looming in the background

Woe 1: The Greyhound Station

This is a repository for low income travelers from all over the country. Many of the homeless roaming the streets are from elsewhere. Greyhound is their common source of entry. The bus station is not compatible with the densification pattern of the Core. It occupies too much space and is an entry point for often unstable elements. As it is, there are no imminent plans to relocate the station.

Woe 2: Camillus House

Being Downtown’s homeless shelter, Camillus House is a natural center of gravity for homelessness. This means that the closer you are to it, the likelier you are to run into panhandling and vagrancy. There are, however, plans to relocate Camillus House west to the Civic Center area. This would reduce the high concentration of displaced persons on the streets. It’s not clear when that move will take place.

Woe 3: The I-395

Having a loud elevated highway run across the flank of your neighborhood is not good. Other than the ceaseless swoosh sound of the speeding traffic, the overpasses can serve to conceal drug deals and illicit activity, promulgate vagrancy, and hamper aesthetic appeal. Fortunately, the FDOT has plans to repositioning it north, ditch it, replace the existing overpass space with park land, and provide level bridge crossings to the newly visible (because the street level view north is currently blocked) M&E District. The timetable for the work has not been set. It should be remembered that the Opus tower was denied by the commission in order to preserve the FDOT’s plans. As encouraging as the plans are, don’t expect the work to start anytime soon.

Image: 1st Avenue View of East Overtown from Parkwest

Woe 4: Overtown

Overtown for years was taboo for people in the suburbs. It was the place you didn’t drive through. Sad, considering the neighborhood was, at one point, a thriving cultural hub for Miami’s Black community. The construction of the I-95 and displacement of about half of Overtown’s residents put an immediate end to that. Today, most of Overtown lies beyond the I-95. The smaller remnant to the east of I-95 meets Parkwest at N.W. 1st Avenue. As one would expect from a ravaged community, Overtown is unstable. Economically, it is in a state of decay. It’s low income and historically plagued with a high crime rate.

Woe 5: Infrastructure

Parkwest lacks cross walks and pedestrian lights. Its sidewalks are in a state of disrepair. With the exception of vacant lots, there are no places to park. The streets are uneven, dirty, and riddled with potholes. There is nothing in the way of landscaping and little in the way of greenery.

Woe 6: Security
The combination of having a high concentration of low income housing units and a homeless shelter creates a security problem. Drug distribution and use is more common. At night, there is little sense of security unless you are near a club and in a group.

Image: Parkwest; empty streets and neglected buildings

Woe 7: Stagnant Retail sector

Parkwest lacks shops of any kind. In so far as retail activity is concerned, it is a void. This means that incoming residents don’t have many services or goods to procure in their immediate surroundings. That’s a fancy way of saying nothing to eat or buy here. Pretty much, there is no retail foundation. Things would have to start from scratch.

Like Woe

There are some serious progress impediments in Parkwest. Through a retailer standpoint, Parkwest is not desirable at this point. However, retailers also have to think about long term potential. By virtue of setting up shop, a retailer becomes vested in the community. Understanding what track the community is heading in, whether positive or negative, is vital in influencing retail activity. On the surface, Parkwest’s retail potential is questionable, but what happens when one digs deeper? What’s happening under the surface? Does the news get better or is urban vitality going to have to wait? This will be considered as we go from Parkwest’s woes to its pros.

(To be Continued…)

Parkwest Map

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Voice from the Streets

Jackie has a couple of things to say to you. These are his opinions, not mine:

For one, he feels harassed by the police. He was sitting on a milk carton the other day and was accused of having stolen it. He can’t stand in front of shops regardless of what the owners say because the cops say so.

Secondly, he would like you to help the homeless directly and not give money to Camillus House which he says does very little for people like him. As an example he told me that he slept there the other day and his shoes were stolen. Did they replace them? According to him, no.

Image: Jackie’s replacement shoes

He is sustained by people like me who give him a dollar here and there and the occasional sleeping bag. He’s given odd jobs by people like the flower guy in front of the Seybold Building and local shop owners. He sleeps in different places every night for safety’s sake and would appreciate some help from you if you see him on the streets.

Image: Jackie’s belongings

Image: Afternoon nap. Shoes hidden from potential thieves.

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Hanging Loose on the Stomping Grounds

Let’s talk about Eugene Moore for a bit. Eugene is 60 years old. He’s been homeless for about 20 years, was born in West Palm Beach, but raised in Overtown and Liberty City. While growing up, he would spend some time in Wrens, Georgia. He dropped out of school in 7th grade. His parents didn’t pay close attention to him and considers himself to be self-raised. At 18 years old, while still living at home in Overtown, his family, along with hundreds of other families, had to abruptly move out of their home to make room for the I-95. They relocated to Liberty City. Eugene still remembers the address: 746 NW 61st street. He said the environment there was tense. After a couple of years in Liberty City, he left home and headed back to Overtown. He wanted to be closer to downtown. When asked why, he answered “you know it’s the stomping grounds.”

Eugene has suffered much from unemployment throughout his life. He said he tried making money on his own by washing cars, cutting grass, and selling produce. Ultimately, a hostile political and social environment compounded with a lack of education led to his plight. He has a lucid mind and a surprisingly broad vocabulary. Today, Eugene is in a wheel chair. He suffers from Rheumatoid arthritis. When asked what he does when a hurricane hits, he quickly answered “hang loose”. No rides. Little help. Hang loose. When asked where he sleeps at night, he said “I move around”. When asked why, he responded “ I don’t know who’s watching me. I don’t want others to know what I do and where I go. Its dangerous.”

Recently, while running a street photography mission, I saw him with a bunch of young thug-looking men on a street corner. When questioned about them, he quickly talked in a warning-like manner. I wanted to know if they were approachable, and to increase my understanding, he compared them to “wolves” and described them as “unpredictable” and “stuck on stupid.” He says they are misguided and many of their parents are kids. He continued to say that he has witnessed “bad things” that he can never speak of. His words open a window into the dark side of the city.

Eugene is one of thousands of seemingly phantom members of society. They roam around without cease and live off of the decency and scraps of others. Their world is dangerous, uncertain, dirty, pitiless, and their existence is barely noticed. They wander amid the shadows and alleys of our buildings. Our trash is their sustenance. Our streets are their bathrooms. Our pocket change is their compensation. Our attention is their best hope. Eugene’s story is but the first.

Post Script: The quotations used in this article were taken from excerpts of a Boom or Bust tape recorded interview with Mr. Eugene Moore.

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Gentrification Awareness Increases As FIU Students Protest

Gentrification is one of those unpopular issues, like homelessness, that no one seems to talk or care about. Lately, there has been an abrupt shift in interest, particularly with the younger college generation. This is quite evident now with the shantytown set up by FIU students protesting the displacement of some Liberty City folks. This student-run three day protest will end up in Umoja Village.

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Miami’s Homeless Get Media Attention

The dark side of the boom

As the condo market cools, what happens to projects that haven’t broken ground yet? Portico in Miami is one of those. The Cameo Apartments still stand on that site, occupied now by vagrants and drug addicts.

BY AMY DRISCOLL AND LISA ARTHUR
adriscoll@MiamiHerald.com

A squatter shoots up in a unit at the Cameo Apartments, whose renters were ousted to make way for a condo high-rise, which hasn't materialized.

NURI VALLBONA/MIAMI HERALD STAFF

NEW RESIDENTS: A squatter shoots up in a unit at the Cameo Apartments, whose renters were ousted to make way for a condo high-rise, which hasn’t materialized.

The once spotless apartment is a gutted shell now, a place where junkies shoot up and urine saturates the carpet beneath layers of fast-food wrappers, tangled window blinds and broken glass.

Five months ago, it was the tiny but pin-neat home of Martha Pomare and her two boys. Now, the only trace of the former occupants is the white paint on the walls.

When the residents of the Cameo Apartments, 1825 NE Fourth Ave., were forced out in June by development plans, they found themselves on the dark side of Miami’s condo-building boom, which gobbled up affordable housing in favor of glitzy new high-rises.

But the Cameo still stands. Nothing new has been built there. Vagrants and addicts have moved in, and the building has been stripped of salvageable metal down to the light sockets.

Last month, the city issued a notice of code violations to the owners, including failure to board up a vacant building. And a for-sale sign has appeared in front of the Cameo for the property and the right to develop Portico, the 324-unit condo project approved for the site.

All around the dilapidated Cameo, new condo towers are nearing completion. But Miami’s overheated real-estate market has cooled, and projects that haven’t broken ground face increasingly difficult conditions. The future of those projects — Portico included — remains in question.

One of the Cameo’s owners, Luis Dominguez, said last week that the 43-story Portico project still will be developed. Victor J. Labruzzo, a partner with Dominguez in the project, said there is “serious interest from a very large developer in Tennessee.”

And there is interest from others, too, he said, but the inquiries are not coming at the same frenzied pace as during the height of the boom.

AWAITING A COMEBACK

”It’s a very difficult market right now, and everyone is trying to make sense of it,” he said. “I’ve been through these kinds of slowdowns in San Francisco and New York. When the market comes back, it soars.”

The big question is how long until the rebound, said Miami real-estate analyst David Dabby. Right now, there are thousands of new condos and more coming onto the market at a time of reduced demand.

”So, right now it’s slow,” Dabby explained. “The banks recognize there’s a slowdown, so naturally they’ve become much more conservative about financing projects.”

Many planned projects have stalled, he said. In many cases, those projects already had cleared out rental apartments and knocked the buildings down.

”If they had known the projects were going to bog down, they would have kept the buildings and collected rents to offset taxes,” Dabby said.

At the Cameo, Dominguez has to deal with squatters instead of renters, and now he has code violations as well. He said his company will demolish the building.

City officials said no hearing date has been set on the code violations, which Cameo Apartments Ltd. had until last Tuesday to correct. The company asked for a 30-day extension to interview demolition companies.

UNPLEASANT REMINDER

For the former residents of the Cameo, it will be a relief when the building finally comes down. It stands as a reminder of the afternoon they found notices on their doors giving them less than three weeks to move. A new condo was taking the building’s place.

The tenants, who had no leases, received their deposits back and ultimately were allowed to stay in their $500-a-month apartments for up to six weeks without paying rent. Dominguez said his company, which bought the Cameo in 2004, allowed renters to stay in the apartments for two years without raising their rents while the Portico project was being planned.

But the search for new homes was still a mad scramble. Some ended up paying more than they could afford for new rentals in the tighter market. Others doubled up with roommates or left the state.

”Jiminy Cricket, all that fuss to get us out of there and nothing’s been built,” said Sharon Frank, a retiree and music minister who now lives in an apartment 11 blocks north of the Cameo.

She peeked into her old apartment recently when she saw the door open.

”I saw minor destruction, a lot of junk,” she said. “I guess they’re preparing for demolition.”

Another former resident, Malika Kabbouchi, who helped her neighbors by finding a lawyer to represent them for free, said she continues to drive by the complex, waiting for signs of construction.

”Every time I go by there, I feel disgusted. . . . Right now, it is an eyesore,” she said. “It’s just outrageous to me that people were forced to move immediately and have their lives in chaos.”

DRUGS, VANDALISM

Inside the Cameo, the newest residents are sleeping off last night’s high. Nearly every apartment has been vandalized. In one, green garbage bags filled with trash are piled in the middle of the living room. In another, a wall is smeared with feces.

Larry, stretched out on a lounge chair in a second-floor apartment, keeps headphones on to drown out the construction racket. He has lived in the complex ”a couple months,” he said.

He’s 52, from Boston originally, and works three nights a week, for $7 an hour, parking cars downtown.

Is it dangerous to live in a room with near-strangers, no windows and no privacy? He shrugs.

”I sleep in the closet,” he said. “Three walls, and you just have to watch the doorway.”

Martha Pomare, the former tenant who lived a few doors from the apartment where Larry now sleeps, says that learning what has become of the complex stings.

”We didn’t have to leave,” she said. “We could have been there all this time.”

Miami Herald staff writer Matthew Haggman contributed to this story.

article appears on: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/15989685.htm

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Miami a Mecca for the Homeless?

I figure that the best way to learn more about homelessness is to take it to the streets. So, I did. I first spoke with Eugene. He was sleeping. He tends to fall asleep slumped over on his wheelchair. I later found out that he had rheumatoid arthritis and hence the wheelchair. Regardless, I woke him up, gave him some breakfast funds and three cigarettes. I asked him if he had seen Jackie, my other homeless friend. He said no. So I asked him some questions and he happily answered them. As it turned out, his answers were invaluable. He gave me insight to what it was like to be displaced by the government when the I-95 was built through Overtown, about a half century ago. I also got the perspective of a man who has been homeless for more than twenty years. He’s from the old-school. The problem is he dropped out of school in 7th grade. There is a direct correlation between dropping out of school and homelessness. Importantly, I also found out why so many homeless come to Miami and stay here: the warm weather.

 

Before I go on for too long about Eugene, who is sound of mind, kind, and gentle, I will first delve into two other cases. Let me begin with Ron. This 25 year old young man is here from Millville New Jersey—hoping to find opportunity. According to him, Greyhound lost his luggage and the 500 dollars he came with. He’s only been in Miami for two months. He, too, cited warm weather as a reason for coming here. He said drug use among the homeless was rampant. When I threw away some trash I had in my hand, he said that that was the first time he had seen someone use a trash can around here. It could be that he’s not paying attention. Frightfully though, he’s probably saying the truth. Another guy, Abel, is 28 years old, also from New Jersey, and also used Greyhound to get here. Not surprisingly, other than finding out that his son was actually not his, warm weather was the main reason for him coming. When asked what kind of a role drugs play in the plight of the homeless, he said “the most important role”. When asked why, he said “a lot of them ask for money to do drugs”. But that didn’t tell me why they did it, so I mentioned to him whether it was just a way of escaping reality, and he said it was exactly that, an escape. I can see why they would want an escape from reality when theirs involves little to no companionship, hope, opportunity, health care, hygiene, security, or even sustenance. When I asked him if it would be good for the drugs to be gone, he said yes because then people would have to face reality. Naturally, because facing reality is the first step towards solving your real problems. Here is what I have learned from speaking to these three men: warm weather will always lure the homeless to Miami—so we better have a good plan to deal with their inflow, for the most part, they use Greyhound to get here, drug use is widespread among them, they don’t feel safe sleeping in Camilus House (when asked how moving Camillus House farther away would affect them, Abel and Ron said, “longer walk.) No matter what, so long as they are homeless, they will be in the center of the city, because that is where the most people and money are.

 

I’ve come to quite a few conclusions. In a practical sense, there are two types of homeless: those who can work and those who cannot. From the latter, you can imagine that there could be several reasons why they can’t work. They might be too old, physically handicapped, or mentally unstable. Obviously, these are the most vulnerable. Dealing with their problems requires concerted government intervention. The others who can work have hope for social rehabilitation. The government has to play the primary role in offering them jobs. It is shocking to see how young some of these homeless people are. Not only can they work, but they want to work. What really bothers me is that the CBD is filled with trash, the streets are filthy, and there is graffiti everywhere. Clearly, there is much work to be done.

 

Some ideas:

 

 

  1. Significantly increase the resources at the disposal of the narcotics units in and around the CBD. These drug dealers have to be taken off the streets. The homeless aren’t exactly mobile. This means the drug dealers are at fixed positions. I refuse to accept that our law enforcement, with added resources, cannot take these scum-buckets down, one by one. So long as drug use is rampant, the homeless will remain in their current state of disrepair and the overall security situation poor.
  2. The government must conduct a homeless census while simultaneously diagnosing their mental and physical state—those who require medical attention, get it (psychological, drug-rehabilitation, etc). Those who can work are given government sponsored jobs like cleaning up the streets, painting over graffiti, and picking up the trash. I just don’t understand how the government can allow prisoners to work on the street, like slave labor, and not think about the most vulnerable and unemployed people on the streets who will work for almost anything.
  3. Explore government housing options that are public transit friendly for the displaced.

 

The solution is to help provide them with a way out—not move Camillus House; unfortunately not even expanding Camillus House will cure the problem. With drug distribution reduced, the homeless will find it more difficult if not impossible to get drugs. They will be forced to face reality and we can help them improve it. The government is not doing enough. I don’t see them do anything at all. There are no results on the streets at least. The homeless claim that there is no assistance. The sad thing is that while we’re all celebrating the rise of these buildings, on the very same streets, the homeless population is swelling and their drug use is out of control. Still, there is plenty that can be done.

 

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Homelessness in Miami

This morning I went looking for Jackie. I couldn’t find him. Instead, I found Bill, a homeless Vietnam veteran. He said he hadn’t seen Jackie all morning. Jackie’s also homeless. I first met him about two and half years ago. Walking in Downtown, you get used to the homeless people. You smell the urine sometimes. You realize some urinate on the same spots daily and you could even notice and avoid the urine stream stains. It’s easy to not want to pay attention to the homeless. So, that’s exactly what I would do two and a half years ago. Not pay attention to them. Everyday I would walk and hear some request for money and would give some bogus excuse or ignore it all together. “I don’t have change. I’m on my way to lunch. I’ll give you something on my way back. I only have credit cards.” You name it. I’d say it. In retrospect, I should have ignored the requests if I wasn’t going to give anything. But, I didn’t. I find it hard to ignore people. I responded with randomness. Of course, regardless of what I would say, I wouldn’t return. Until one day, after giving another one of my random excuses, I was stopped in my tracks by a tall, skinny, black old man with blue eyes, and a tired, long, and worn face. He said to me, “Why you do that?” “Why do you tell me you gonna come back and never come back?” I felt embarassed and just quietly looked down. I walked away. I was by the JESU church on NE 1st Avenue and 3rd street. As I walked away from him, I felt regret in my heart. This homeless guy was right. So, I went to one of the parking lot toll guys and asked him to change a 10 dollar bill for me. I went back to the homeless guy and asked him his name. “Jackie”, he responded. I asked him how many times I had not come back when saying I would, and he remembered the days and my lame excuses. I couldn’t believe it. This guy had great memory. The first thing to mind was that he can’t be doing hard drugs. I gave him a dollar for every one of my lame excuses, four in all. This began a two year old friendship that continues to this day. Jackie has even given me gifts (a waiter’s tray, and ironically a bath set in a wicker basket.) He said that the bath set was for my pretty lady. One time he told me that if I ever needed a couple of bucks for an emergency, he’d raise it for me. Now, I would give Jackie at least two dollars every time I saw him. Like a friend, I’d listen to him when he’d talk. I rarely talk to him for more than three minutes out of each day. Still, I realized I was one of many sponsors who helped him. When times got rough, he’d ask for 5 sometimes 10 bucks. When he felt he had to go to the hospital, he went to his friends and would ask for money for transportation to go to Jackson Memorial. I realized I was one of his most reliable friends. I realized how important I and others like me were to someone like Jackie, who to most, is not worthy of an after thought even less a name or identity. I appreciate Jackie and am determined to address the issue of homelessness head on. Jackie represents hundreds of homeless people in downtown Miami. There are plans for Camillus House to be moved west of the I-95, but these guys will just find their way back to the city, because they have to; it’s where their sponsors are. They’re not going anywhere, so long as they remain homeless. Many of them are mentally unstable, but others, like Jackie, are sound of mind. During hurricanes they hide in alleys, like cats. One of them Ralph, is 62 and in a wheelchair, and had to do just that during hurricane Katrina. He said God looked after him.

I’m going to, as part of my overall analysis of Miami’s historic urban transformation, report on homelessness regularly. How many of them are there? How rampant is drug use among them? Where do they congregate most? These are not questions people like to ask, but they are vitally important if one is to understand one of the most obvious problems present in Miami.

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