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Complaint: Fort Lauderdale commissioner bullied homeless into leaving their camp

homeless camp
In April, (left) the homeless camp on a swale behind the Salvation Army building at 1445 W. Broward Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale. Right, the newly paved swale with empty parking spaces on Sunday.

By Noreen Marcus,FloridaBulldog.org

An activist says a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner used bullying tactics to force homeless people to abandon their tent community on public property.

After spending months at a camp behind a Salvation Army shelter off Broward Boulevard, some returned to the streets, where COVID-19 roams freely.

Jeff Weinberger filed a complaint Sept. 22 with the Broward County Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that accuses Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Robert McKinzie of ramming a pickup truck into a tent at the camp.

homeless camp
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Robert McKinzie

The complaint says McKinzie told Luke McCloud, the homeless man who owned the tent, “This is my property,” apparently referring to the campsite.

McCloud recently told Florida Bulldog that high-ranking police officers who appeared with McKinzie warned McCloud if he didn’t move, he’d be arrested. He and Weinberger said beat cops constantly harassed camp residents.

Homeless camp erased

The camp sprang up in January on a public right-of-way behind the Salvation Army shelter on Broward Boulevard in northwest Fort Lauderdale’s Dorsey Riverbend neighborhood. After pandemic rules forced the shelter to stop accepting new clients, more than two dozen people set up tents outside.

McKinzie, a well-connected building contractor, represents Dorsey Riverbend on the city commission. He did not respond to emailed questions from Florida Bulldog.

The camp was emptied and turned into a city construction site soon after the alleged mid-April incident involving McKinzie. Florida Bulldog published a story about the camp on April 20. The swale where the homeless once camped has been paved over and 17 unused parking spaces dot the property.

“It’s a street that nobody goes down. People drive past the parking spaces to get to the Salvation Army parking lot,” Weinberger said.

Activist Jeff Weinberger

City paperwork about the project doesn’t say who requested it, why it was needed or how much it would cost city taxpayers. The “applicant” is listed as a city traffic administrative supervisor.

Weinberger is trying to obtain city internal documents to learn more. His OIG complaint says there was no camp left to close by May 5, when the city commission voted on and rejected an ordinance that would have closed it. The camp was also near the Jack & Jill Children’s Center at 1315 W. Broward Blvd.

Trantalis: Bullying isn’t city policy

McKinzie disparages homeless people, Weinberger said, but other city leaders are better at expressing empathy than doing very much to help them.

“The city pays a lot of lip service to helping the homeless, but in reality they don’t do anything. They criminalize homeless people,” he said.

Mayor Dean Trantalis told Florida Bulldog he was unaware of the OIG complaint. “If the allegations are true, it’s unfortunate that he chose that tactic,” Trantalis said of McKinzie, his political foe.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis

“I apologize on behalf of the city that a commissioner has conducted himself this way toward people who are destitute and seeking help. This is not the policy of the Fort Lauderdale City Commission and whatever he did was totally on his own,” Trantalis said.

He disputed Weinberger’s claim that the city’s homeless policy is more talk than action. “I think it’s disingenuous to say our efforts were a failure,” Trantalis said.

He confirmed that the city used $530,000 in federal funding to help the homeless and said the commission just approved spending hundreds of thousands more from the same source.

Contempt for homeless camp

Asked about direct city funding, Trantalis referred a reporter to City Manager Chris Lagerbloom, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Trantalis said getting people off the streets and into shelters or hotels, where they met with social service case managers, resulted in some of them finding jobs and achieving independence. “It wasn’t 100 percent, not everybody accepted our offer,” he said. Trantalis said Lagerbloom would know how many successfully completed the program.

In contrast, McKinzie expressed his contempt for the people who lived in the Salvation Army tent camp at a May 5 city commission hearing.

“This is the only group of people that gets to flat out ignore the constitution, that gets to flat out ignore the laws that all of us have to abide by,” he said. “I was born and raised in this community. I don’t want to see this in anybody’s backyard.”

He wanted to extend a 2014 ordinance banning homeless camps downtown to anywhere in the city that’s within 1,000 feet of a child care facility or a school. Violations carry a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail.

Proposal fails in 3-2 vote

In the end the commission voted 3-2 against McKinzie’s proposal. Trantalis cast the tie-breaking vote.

He said at the time he felt “conflicted” because he knows that having a homeless camp near young children is a problem. “But this ordinance is not the answer. It would antagonize the community rather than address the concern.”

McKinzie reacted to the commission’s decision by saying it was “embarrassing, appalling to me. It’s just turning a deaf ear and closing your eyes to the obvious, which is what needs to be done right now. Stop using COVID-19 as an excuse why not to act.”

The lengthy virtual hearing that drew Dorsey Riverbend residents along with health care and homeless advocates was contentious at times. It showed how homelessness impacts and roils an entire community, especially during a public health crisis.

The homeless form a roving community of their own. They are estimated at 2,400 in Broward County, with 40 percent, or almost 1,000, in Fort Lauderdale. Weinberger said he believes “the count is off by at least a factor of two to three.”

It’s also hard to estimate how many camps remain in Fort Lauderdale. Weinberger reeled off three locations, but explained, “A lot of homeless people try to stay hidden out of fear of being abused by cops or mean humans.”

‘Why my neighborhood?’

At the May 5 hearing, backers of the McKinzie proposal claimed they saw people at the homeless camp at the Salvation Army camp openly bathing, defecating and having sex. They called in to say such outrageous acts would never be tolerated in the wealthy enclave of Victoria Park, and complained that homeless drifters went from downtown to Dorsey Riverbend.

“I say to you, why my neighborhood?” asked a woman who described herself as a concerned citizen. Much of Dorsey Riverbend is African-American.

Pamela Beasley-Pittman

“If we are going to take this fight on, it needs to be proportioned throughout the city. Dorsey Riverbend is not the place to fix the problem,” said Pamela Beasley-Pittman, president of the Historic Dorsey-Riverbend Civic Association.

“No one is willing to take a person home with them and help them get on their feet,” said Pittman. That approach “would eliminate the homeless problem in this community.”

In the meantime, she favored McKinzie’s idea.

An opponent likened his proposal to housing laws that greatly restrict where registered sex offenders may live. She said the expanded homeless camp ban would be equally restrictive and punitive.

‘Treat people like humans’

Several opponents noted that federal COVID-19 guidelines warn against destroying homeless camps. Not only are the inhabitants highly susceptible to COVID-19 because of untreated health problems, they can spread the disease to others when they’re forced out into the community.

“If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are,” an Aug. 6 guideline from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers,” the guideline says.

“Treat people like humans,” Dr. Armen Henderson of the University of Miami urged the commission.

“This is America, this is the richest country in the world, so called. So it really sucks that we have to have people living on the street and a lot of people that I’ve come across don’t want to be there,” he said.

Leaving Fort Lauderdale

Two homeless people who recently left Fort Lauderdale told Florida Bulldog they came to rely on supporters and their own wits when city officials’ promised long-term help failed to materialize.

McCloud, who said he tangled with McKinzie at the camp, is living in the backyard of a Miami-Dade homeless advocate, along with four others.

Eventually McCloud, who is mentally disabled,got a hotel voucher from the city and was one of a group of about 70 who spent four months at the local Rodeway Inn. He said he worked with a case manager to apply for Section 8 low-income housing, but it never came through.

McCloud’s eviction notice arrived with an offer to move into a shelter, but he declined to go there, believing shelters are breeding grounds for COVID-19.

“Why would you jeopardize my life going to a shelter when you promised us something?” he asked. “They could have left us where we were instead of building a place for cars to park at.”

One of McCloud’s backyard neighbors is Shana Cartwright. She had a moment in the spotlight when she called into the May 5 city commission hearing.

Homeless woman’s temporary fix

Cartwright said she was calling from the plaza outside the closed, downtown main library, surrounded by 30 other homeless people. “All we need to do is have somebody come out here and help us out,” she said.

Trantalis asked why she and the others congregated at the library.

“Cause we don’t have nowhere else to go,” Cartwright responded.

“Well, guess what Shana, you’re in luck,” the mayor said. He promised hotel accommodations in a while, “so try to be patient.”

The reaction from Cartwright and the crowd at the library was loud and joyful. “Yes! Thank God!” rang out. There were cheers and applause.

In a recent interview, Cartwright said she followed the same path as McCloud — stayed at the Rodeway Inn, unsuccessfully applied for housing, got an eviction notice and an invitation to move to a shelter. She went to the shelter but left after one day.

Will complaint make a difference?

“They wouldn’t let us go to the store,” she said. “They kept me like a prisoner and I’m not in jail.”

“All this could not have happened if the mayor did what he was supposed to do, give us housing,” Cartwright said.

Weinberger’s organization is the October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness, named for the date in 2014 when the Fort Lauderdale commission approved ordinances that penalize panhandling, food sharing and more.

The inspector general’s office doesn’t discuss ongoing investigations and Weinberger said he didn’t know what happened to his complaint. The OIG isn’t a prosecutor; its recommendations are only advisory.

Still, Weinberger hopes his complaint resonates.

“If enough noise is made about how the city acted, we can use this as leverage to force them to do the right thing and make demands that they provide housing for these people,” he said. “We can shame them into doing the right thing.”

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Comments

15 responses to “Complaint: Fort Lauderdale commissioner bullied homeless into leaving their camp”

  1. These homeless camps are not groups of peaceful, law abiding individuals huddled together in crisis trying to stay under the radar. Just go take a look at NW 1st Avenue and Broward Boulevard adjacent to the Broward County Downtown Bus Terminal. It’s a lawless chaotic mess, rife with drug abuse, prostitution, filth and violence. They panhandle at every intersection, beg and harass working people who must use the terminal to catch a bus to work. They’ve taken over the bus terminal, gather in groups at every bus bay, openly drinking and drugging, behaving wildly, flopped out on every bench intended for the riding public, intimidating those who are there to catch a bus. It isn’t safe to be in that area at any time of day or night. And NEWSFLASH: The vast majority do not want help other than food distribution. Going into a shelter or any form of housing requires adherence to rules, and an effort to get clean and sober, become a functioning member of society. Most, want to be exactly where they are, doing exactly what they’re doing. No hard working tax paying citizen should have to tolerate these camps popping up in their backyard, in the parks that were built by taxpayer dollars for the benefit of their community and children. You can throw as much money as you want at the problem, if the individuals are not cooperative, nothing will change. Seek out the few who DO want to change their situation and invest in them. As for the remainder, make it difficult, if not impossible to continue taking over our streets and neighborhoods. You can’t beat a dead horse. Move this criminal element out of Broward County once and for all. Commissioner McKenzie has my full support.

  2. A real concerned citizen Avatar
    A real concerned citizen

    I wonder if the writer of this article would be okay with a homeless camp right outside their apartment complex or the development in which they pay mortgage and HOA fees’? How would you feel knowing you go to work everyday and have to come home to non rent paying citizens hanging their laundry and setting up their tent on the fence of the property in which you pay for. Openly have sex, using drugs and Trash littered Outside your doorstep. The writer seems very concerned, I wonder that measures have been taken on their end to help the homeless. Maybe you should take them in and let them live and eat rent free in your home. This would not be tolerated in Weston, the city of Parkland or the likes, so why allow it in the NW Community?
    I have an idea, let’s move them into RIO VISTA and see how that works. I think that says A LOT!!!! Homelessness is not a crime but it doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you want and use homeless as an excuse.

  3. LISA B BRADSHAW Avatar
    LISA B BRADSHAW

    I FULLY support the commissioner. Homeless encampments pose health and safety risks which are disproportionately visited upon ethnic communities. The mayor certainly wouldn’t allow tent dwellers on ‘his block’ let alone his own back yard.

  4. Lol…..”on the streets where COVID-19 roams freely.

  5. There is nothing new about people being homeless or house less. The problem has been around for thousands of years. Is there a solution to the problem? A solution that works at least say 90%? People keep saying the United States is the richest country in the world. From what I have been reading about 90% of the wealth is concentrated in about five or 10% of the population. A great many people are one step from the street right now and they have been working all their lives living paycheck to paycheck. This country is chintzy and Cheap, not so rich. I mean, the country can spend $1 billion up in smoke on fireworks on the Fourth of July, $1 trillion to bounce around on the Moon and go to Mars, hundreds of billions of dollars to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent unarmed non-combatant civilians in foreign countries, billions on alcohol and tobacco, billions on cocaine, add much more on trivial frivolous unnecessary items, but they do not have the money for social programs to help people who are less fortunate. The fact is that most people are just grossly selfish and coarse and indifferent toward people who are less fortunate than they are. I got some news for you. I had known in detail about the attacks of September 11 since 1997. I told about 120 people, including law enforcement, detailed information about those attacks before they happened. You got the same kind of service from your protectors has people in Parkland Florida got from police and FBI when they contacted them 45 times with tips and warnings about Nicholas Cruz. You got negligence and indifference and selfishness and incompetence in the discharge of official duties. It seems like nobody gives a damn about anybody except themselves.

  6. Just seen the before and after photos. Not even the same place. I’m not being political, just pointing out, what I see.

  7. I live a block away from that “encampment”, I could not even walk my dogs down that street because they are drawn to the feces and urine smell in the bushes around that area where the homeless use the bathroom. There were multiple incidents of cars in the area being broken into, I witnessed multiple incidents of people pooping and urinating near my home a block a way…they were buying drugs in the area, some next door to my home…others running up and down 14th ave…and bicycle drug dealers delivering drugs to the encampment. I have personally helped out people on the past, feeding people on my stoop, offering blankets and extra clothing…now, NO WAY. This was a nightmare…our commissioner did the right thing…and the homeless advocate that called into the city commission phone meeting cursed at everyone and they shut her off. This would never be allowed in other areas…That “shelter” they congregate in front of, wasn’t here 8 years ago…it was snuck in by the Salvation Army. My sister was homeless for a year in another state…she was bi-polar and wouldn’t listen or take her meds…I am glad they are gone…

  8. Shaina Webster Avatar

    Very Happy that the mayor did this !!
    This is not New York or Crapaforinia … we can not let these shantytowns popping up all over our cities it’s not safe for any citizen and most of all children !!
    I’m happy he did whatever he had to ,to stop this from destroying our cities like it has so many other great cities

  9. Amard Kendrick Avatar

    All I see is people talking about the criminal element of the Homeless, but it’s a lot of us that have just fell on bad times, a lot of them have mental issues, a many that went and fought for this country but those are not the one’s that they choose to help. They come out and find musty the one that they know are going to mess up or are comfortable with where they are. By the time that must of us get information about some kind of help it’s full,too late,or we don’t qualify. I know a lot of families on the street and can’t get no help.

  10. Dan Christensen Avatar
    Dan Christensen

    Hi, Lorrisa – It is the same location. The buildings in the back were painted since the first photo was taken, and in Sunday’s shot the place is obviously much wetter!

  11. These comments are disgusting! Please remember the table is round. You may be up today and homeless tomorrow. And I agree with the sensible person who above who said most of us are a paycheck away from homelessness, i.e. the working poor, yet you’re throwing stones as if you’re better than anyone else. People should not be criminalized for being poor. I agree that something needs to be done, but to treat people like they’re not human is not the way. I also agree with the comment above stating that some are mentally ill and others who were in the military who came out in need of help and this so called “richest country in the world” turn their backs on their veterans. Poor people do not start wars, yet they’re the ones sent in to fight them and suffer thereafter. Money need to be vested into new revolutionary mental health facilities and other social services. It’s disgusting seeing how much money is being pumped into these elections, yet there’s never any money to help the poor. $1,200 seven months ago is inhumane given that so many people have lost their jobs, yet the big companies continue to get bailouts. Other first world countries are helping their citizens but the US is so in love with capitalism. The 99% need to realize the 1% do not care about them and they make power moves to keep the working poor and the poor poor at odds with each other while they continue to get richer. The 99% aren’t each other’s enemies … The 1% is.

  12. Gloria Vargas Avatar

    People should be ashamed of themselves talking about the homeless like animaks .Dont worry your day will come .We serv a just God .Your harddaysare coming very soon

  13. Thank you for alerting me to this madness. McKenzie has my vote.

  14. Fed Up With Homeless Avatar
    Fed Up With Homeless

    I had a homeless man flash his private part in front of my kid and niece as he was peeing in public, so I have no patience for the trauma the homeless inflict on children with their behavior. I suffer everyday going to work to make ends meet and to feed my family and pay taxes to the government. The homeless should get a job and have responsibilities just like me. Why should I pay taxes and the homeless don’t??!!??

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