Homeless Camps Under I-95 Cleaned Up Without Evictions

Miami is moving to clean up encampments under interstate bridges, which are among the worst seen in the area in decades

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One day after the City of Miami enlisted the Florida Department of Transportation to help it clean up a roadside homeless encampment in Overtown, the people who live under the I-95 bridge were back in place Thursday morning.

Some of the residents complained Wednesday they were being evicted, but they were not.

Still, the surprise clean-up activity did result in some losing belongings, which were carted off by city crews and the FDOT contractor recruited by the city to assist, as the site is adjacent to the company's staging area and FDOT right of way.

The move came hours after the city got FDOT to post "no trespassing" signs warning violators could be arrested if they cross into the FDOT contractor's staging area.

Ron Book, chair of the Homeless Trust, said he visited the sites last week.

"We have not seen encampments like that in over 20 years," he said, adding he was especially concerned with the residents' susceptibility to the novel coronavirus.

"I would agree with those who have indicated that they are violating the social distancing rules," Book said, noting tents were not properly spaced.

But he said the trust had nothing to do with Wednesday action, which some of the homeless likened to an eviction.

"I have been evicted from my place of residence under the bridge for no apparent reason," one man told an activist with Dream Defenders, who witnessed the operation and provided video to NBC 6.

But Thursday morning, the stretch of NW 11th Street that was cleaned up yesterday was still lined with tents occupied by the homeless along sidewalks that were cleaner than before the city's action.

The city said any relocation was temporary, as they cleaned up the area, something they routinely do at homeless camps to meet sanitation guidelines from the Department of Health.

"The homeless are still set up there ... and they resumed their normal activities after the clean-up," police spokesman Michael Vega told NBC 6.

But, with FDOT's reconstruction of the I95/SR836/I-395 interchange getting into full swing, those who live in affected work areas will sooner or later have to move on.

Being homeless is bad enough; being homeless during a pandemic can be especially dangerous.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued special guidance for homeless encampments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, recommending in most cases "people who are living unsheltered or in encampments (be allowed) to remain where they are."

Book, of the Homeless Trust, said he got word of the Miami/FDOT action and looked into it.

"It is not an action the Homeless Trust was involved in. The Homeless Trust had no knowledge of it. We will not ever participate in such an action" if it involved forcible relocation, Book said.

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