In 1988, the ACLU filed a suit against the City of Miami on behalf of all homeless persons living in the City. In 1992, after hearing extensive evidence, the federal district court found that “the City has a policy and practice of arresting homeless individuals for the purpose of driving them from public areas,” and that this policy and practice violated the rights of homeless people under the Constitution. You can find the opinion here.
The Settlement Agreement
The City appealed the ruling. After further proceedings, and while the case was on appeal, the City and the ACLU entered into a Settlement Agreement in 1998. This Settlement Agreement brought an end to the case by placing limits on the power of its police officers to arrest homeless individuals for committing certain “life-sustaining conduct” misdemeanors.
The Settlement Agreement was approved by the Federal District Court on October 1, 1998. It has the same binding legal effect as a judgment of the court.
The Terms of the Settlement Agreement
Note: This brief summary does not encompass all aspects of the Settlement Agreement. You can find the complete Settlement Agreement here.
Limits on Arrest
Under the Settlement Agreement, a police officer may arrest a homeless individual for committing a “life-sustaining conduct” misdemeanor only if the following conditions are satisfied:
These “life-sustaining conduct” misdemeanors are:
- there is an available shelter bed within the City or one mile of the City limits,
- the officer advises the homeless person of the availability of that shelter bed, and
- the homeless individual declines to accept the offer of the shelter bed.
- being in the park after hours
- public nudity where necessary to carry on the daily necessities of life, such as bathing or responding to a call of nature
- fires in parks (however, lewd, lascivious or indecent assault or act upon or in presence of child is not protected)
- obstructing passage on sidewalks
- living or sleeping in vehicles
- loitering in restrooms
- camping in parks
- use of facilities for other than intended purpose (e.g., sleeping on a park bench)
- temporary structures in park
- trespass on “public property” other than structure or conveyance
Other Protections, Including Protection of Property
The Settlement Agreement also sets out requirements governing the protection of homeless people’s property, which are intended to ensure that the City respects the personal property of all homeless people. Finally, it has a number of provisons on enforcement, record-keeping, and the like.
(The Settlement Agreement also provided for compensation to homeless people who had been wrongly arrested or had personal property destroyed between 1984 and 1998. Compensation was awarded to individuals through a streamlined procdess supervised by a magistrate. This part of the Settlement Agreement has been completed. See Lissette Corsa and Kathy Glasgow, It’s Payback Time, Miami New Times, Oct. 28, 1999.)
The City’s Decision to Seek a Modification of the Settlement Agreement
The Settlement Agreement has remained in effect for nearly 15 years. On Tuesday, April 9, 2013, the City Commission voted to retain legal counsel to seek modification of the Settlement Agreement. See Charles Rabin and Andres Viglucci, Miami to Go to Federal Court to Undo Homeless-Protection Act, Miami Herald, April 11, 2013. The City indicated publicly that it wants to give police more latitude to arrest homeless people and dispose of their property, and to exclude sexual predators from its protection entirely.
The ACLU’s Efforts to Protect the Rights of Homeless Persons in Miami
Any modification of the Settlement Agreement would require the approval of the federal district court. The exact process to decide whether the Settlement Agreement remains unchanged or is modified will depend in part on discussions between the City and the ACLU. The ACLU believes that the Settlement Agreement has valuable protections for the legal rights of homeless people within the City of Miami. The ACLU is now working to ensure that the rights of homeless people remain protected. As part of this effort, the ACLU seeks as wide a consultation as possible with homeless people living in Miami. The Survey is an important step in that consultation.