MIAMI, FL – On Friday, U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno terminated the Pottinger consent decree, a 1998 settlement agreement that protected the rights of people experiencing homelessness in Miami in response to unconstitutional actions by the City and law enforcement that violated homeless persons’ rights. The historic consent decree protected the fundamental rights of people experiencing homelessness from living without fear of arrest or destruction of their property.
The consent decree changed the culture, policies, and operations of the local government. As a direct result of the Pottinger agreement, the City of Miami dedicates numerous resources to provide housing and services to people experiencing homelessness, and local law enforcement receive critical training on how to work with individuals compassionately and humanely.
Despite these advances, the City did not adhere to the agreement. In 2018, the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida filed a motion urging the federal court to enforce the historic legal agreement in response to the City’s violations. The motion demonstrated that police and city workers had been seizing and destroying the property of people experiencing homelessness in the city and banishing them from certain areas. It also showed that police had arrested individuals for engaging in “life sustaining misdemeanor conduct” without offering shelter or assistance, as required by the Pottinger Agreement.
Responding to the ruling, Benjamin Waxman, an attorney with the law firm Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf, P.A., and lead counsel in the Pottinger case, said:
“For over thirty years, the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida has fought for the constitutional rights of people experiencing homelessness in Miami. The Pottinger agreement worked well for twenty years. Without a doubt, it changed the City of Miami’s policies for how it works with this most vulnerable community in our city. Homeless people historically have had their rights violated and are often not treated with compassion or dignity. We are disappointed in the court’s ruling. We are still evaluating the possibility of an appeal. “We hope the City will live up to the trust the court has placed in it to continue upholding the rights of homeless persons in Miami. As we always have, we will continue to monitor Miami’s treatment of people experiencing homelessness and will not hesitate to sue again should the need arise.”
Responding to the ruling, Daniel Tilley, ACLU of Florida staff attorney said:
“Throughout Florida, we have witnessed local governments violate the rights of people experiencing homelessness, and we have sued those governments. With the termination of the landmark Pottinger agreement, the City of Miami is only further empowered to use the criminal-justice system as a tool to victimize the most vulnerable in our society. Criminalizing homelessness is not the answer, and we will take note of Miami’s response to this ruling.”
A copy of the opinion can be found here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/memorandum_opinion_07202675xb3b17.pdf.