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FL- Lobbyist pushed laws that push outcasts into homelessness

3-4-2009 Florida:

In the bowels of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, an ever-growing number of community outcasts live amid the putrescence of a shocking community failure.

No fresh water. No toilets. No trash dumpster. And no indication, after two years watching a public disgrace metastasize into a public health hazard, that the $41 million-a-year Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust would intervene.

Wednesday afternoon, I called and left a message for Homeless Trust Director David Raymond. The call was returned by the ubiquitous Ron Book.

Book, among his many incarnations, serves as chairman of the Homeless Trust. But the colony of sex offenders beneath the bridge were essentially forced into homelessness by a burst of overlapping city and county residency restrictions championed by this same Ron Book.

Book, the most powerful lobbyist in South Florida, pushed for sex-offender restrictions in town after town. When Book pushes a city commission, he gets results.


I wanted to know why the Homeless Trust hasn't provided a few basic necessities for a homeless camp. It was the wrong Book to ask. He launched into a defense of the laws that put them there. And he claimed that the restrictions leave three areas in the county not yet off limits for sex offenders.

But Greta Plessinger of the Florida Department of Corrections said those areas just aren't affordable. ``The bottom line is that we've been working with the offenders, but we haven't been able to find a legal place for them to live that they can afford.''

Book countered, ``If those people aren't employable, if they don't have financial resources, that's

an issue of their criminal convictions. There are people convicted for other offenses who have similar difficulty finding housing.''

Except other convicts aren't forced to live under a bridge.

The colony has burgeoned to 48 men, living in tents, scrap-wood shacks, rusting campers, the back seats of cars. Thirty-three are on probation, most after serving prison terms. The others are forced to live there because, under Florida law, ''sex offender'' becomes a life-long designation.

Plessinger said that residency laws intended to protect the public have the perverse effect of making ex-sex offenders more difficult for DOC to monitor. ``We're concerned that it's more dangerous. That homeless sex offenders are more likely to abscond.''


Most social scientists, and studies by corrections officials in Minnesota and Colorado, have come to the same conclusion. But the wisdom of residency laws was beside the point. All I wanted to know was why the Homeless Trust, which has done so much heroic work for Miami's transient population, hasn't at least provided a trash dumpster for the Tuttle outcasts.

Book said no. He has a policy against providing services (such as outdoor feedings) that enable the homeless to remain adrift. Except laws that Book championed preclude ex-sex offenders from entering a homeless shelter.

The men have been banished to a dank permanent netherworld that Book, as much as anyone, helped create. Shouldn't the trust do something?

''You should pose that question to the Department of Corrections,'' Book insisted. ``They put those people there.'' ..Source.. by FRED GRIMM

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