Behind closed doors on Wednesday, the Miami City Commission approved major changes to the Pottinger settlement.
The historic court agreement has protected the rights of Miami’s homeless since it first went into effect in 1998. The original Pottinger agreement protected what’s called "life sustaining activities" like sleeping on the street, lighting fires for cooking and urinating in public — all without being arrested.
Starting last year, though, the city has worked to change the original agreement citing huge leaps in services available to the homeless. The city argues that Pottinger ties its hands to deal with the remaining 350 homeless downtown and surrounding areas. Those numbers are comprised mostly of the chronically homeless.
Officials reached a mediated agreement with the ACLU last month to change Pottinger. The new version prevents those sleeping outside from blocking sidewalks, building temporary structures in parks or littering 300 feet from trash cans. Additionally, homeless who are registered sex offenders are no longer protected under Pottinger.
As in the original Pottinger settlement, If a bed is available at a shelter and a homeless person refuses it, he or she could be arrested. The new Pottinger, though, expands the definition of an available shelter bed. Mats will now be considered a viable alternative to a bed in shelters.
Though the decision to ratify Pottinger was made privately, another item on the agenda Wednesday prompted comments about Pottinger: the approval of funds for 100 new mats at the Camillus House homeless shelter.
The amendments to Pottinger still have to be signed off by U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno who oversaw the case, but his approval is expected.