Homeless People Say City Workers Are Stealing Their Stuff
Kevin Henderson had a rude awakening early the morning of July 2, as if sleeping on the sidewalk adjacent to the Highland Professional Building on NW 18th Street wasn't bad enough. The building is a frequent bed-down spot for the homeless because of its wide overhang, which protects them from the rain, and it had been a dreary, wet night.
Andre Silva Rafael Aguiar (left), who is homeless, was the first of dozens to allege rampant property theft by green shirts.
"When I wake up, I see bags on top of bags piled up. They were throwing people's stuff on the truck," Henderson recalls, his version of events supported by several fellow homeless people who also say they were victimized.
"It was the green shirts," Henderson says.
The "green shirts" are a division of more than 40 workers, most formerly homeless themselves, who are employed by Miami's Homeless Assistance Program (MHAP) and tasked with offering services and shelter.
Henderson says that incident was the third time the city workers had stolen his stuff. This time around, he says, they took "six pairs of shoes, all my clothes, they got my food stamp card, my ID, my social security card, my prison ID, and they got $250 in cash. They didn't even bother to go through the stuff to see what was important to me."
In interviews conducted over the past six months, dozens of homeless people living in downtown Miami have complained about rampant property theft by city employees. It's just the latest insult in what has been a hostile year for the city's most marginalized population. In April, city officials, prompted by business owners who blame the presence of homeless people for economic woes, proposed rolling back the few basic protections afforded to the homeless -- protections they had fought more than a decade to get. If a judge OKs the rollbacks this month, it will be like going back in time to a much darker age.
Dozens of homeless people around the city say they've been victimized by green shirts; half a dozen say they were hassled in the same incident that Henderson describes. Vicki Perez, who only months earlier had been living in her own Miami condo, recalls the same rainy morning. She managed to get her suitcase returned before the green shirts drove off, but it wasn't without a fight.
"They started taking our things, our belongings, and throwing [them] onto the truck. They took my carrier, and that's when I got up and got really upset," she recalls. "They were very rude. They were horrible. I don't think we should be treated that way because we're living out in the streets."
A week after the alleged July thefts, Gene Evans was sweeping the sidewalk -- his daily chore -- across from "The Sisters" with half a broom that had snapped in two. He hunched over as his sweaty hands gripped the splintered handle and sent dirt streetward. "The Sisters" is what homeless folks call the Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic order of nuns that feeds the homeless six days a week from a facility on NW 17th Street. Established in Miami some 30 years ago by Mother Teresa, the charity itself faced being shut down by the city earlier this year, though the conflict was ultimately resolved.
Once their makeshift sitting room was clean, Gene and a few fellow homeless perched side by side on plastic crates and nodded in affirmation as one after the next recounted a litany of recent abuse by cops and city workers.