Miami, Florida – The city of Miami has agreed to a $300,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by four individuals experiencing homelessness. The legal action was initiated after city employees discarded personal possessions of the homeless, including items like government IDs, medication, family photographs, and an urn containing a parent’s ashes.
Enhanced Protections for the Homeless
As a crucial component of the settlement, Miami will modify its approach to handling personal items found during street cleanups. Jeffrey Hearne, a representative for the plaintiffs and an attorney with Legal Services of Greater Miami, outlined the new policy. Now, individuals will have a 90-day window to reclaim their significant belongings before the city proceeds with disposal. This change aims to mitigate the loss of essential and sentimental items during cleanup operations.
The city is also mandated to provide the plaintiffs’ legal team with periodic reports for a year, enabling close monitoring of the policy’s effectiveness. This agreement marks a significant shift in how Miami addresses the belongings of its homeless population, addressing long-standing concerns over the treatment of personal property during cleanups.
City officials have traditionally defended these operations as necessary measures to maintain public health and safety by keeping sidewalks clean and unobstructed. However, critics argue that the process often results in the loss of irreplaceable personal items and essential documents.
Legal and Community Impact
The Miami City Commission’s unanimous decision to approve the settlement concludes a lawsuit that began in June 2022, highlighting the legal and ethical challenges surrounding the city’s treatment of the homeless. The plaintiffs’ legal team, which included members from Southern Legal Counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, emphasized the importance of the new policy in protecting the rights and dignity of homeless individuals.
In addition to the financial compensation, the agreement includes measures to improve transparency and accountability in future cleanups. The city has committed to issuing advance notices of cleanups and documenting personal belongings collected, with efforts to contact the owners before disposal.
This settlement not only addresses the immediate concerns raised by the lawsuit but also represents a broader commitment to respecting the rights of the homeless in Miami. It follows years of debate over the city’s obligations under the Pottinger Agreement, a now-dissolved federal consent decree that offered protections to the homeless. The resolution of this case may set a precedent for how municipalities handle the personal property of homeless individuals, ensuring a balance between public health objectives and individual rights.