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Miami Herald - Mar. 30, 2002


By Oscar Corral

The city of Miami and Camillus House are going ahead with plans to move the homeless-assistance facility to a location near its current site, despite an angry uproar this week by community residents.

Miami commissioners say moving Camillus House is the key to jump-starting redevelopment in the area just north of downtown near the Miami Arena.

''That will resolve the homeless problem in downtown Miami,'' Miami Commission Chairman Tomás Regalado said. ``There are people who are reluctant to invest knowing they have a transient population there.''

The city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which is made up of commissioners, took a straw vote Monday during its meeting at the Doubletree Grand Hotel to support moving Camillus from its current location on Northeast Seventh Street and First Avenue to what is now a parking lot five blocks away on Northwest Second Avenue and Sixth Street.

Another possibility is a lot on Northwest Third Court between Seventh Street and Fifth Street, abutting Interstate 95.

Residents in the relocation area are adamantly opposed and stirred up such an uproar at Monday's meeting that Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. called for police backup.

''Overtown has literally been gutted of homeowners, not because people don't want to live there but because they can't,'' said Jacqui Colyer, who owns a home near the area and helped organize the protest.

``Every other year, the city is assaulting us by putting in a new homeless shelter.''

Another area resident, Benny Bain, said he would fight the new location every step of the way.

''There's enough drugs there already,'' Bain said. ``This will make the problem more serious.''

Camillus' current location is in Commission Vice Chairman Johnny Winton's district, while the suggested location backed by the CRA is in Teele's district.

At Monday's meeting, Teele took the brunt of the criticism, being called names like ''Benedict Arnold'' and other slurs.

Police eventually showed up, but no one was arrested.

Teele said he voted in support of the relocation not because he believed in it, but because he ``would not let a mob intimidate me.''

A year ago, Camillus House announced that it had decided to move to a new location in Wynwood.

But Teele said the CRA has decided not to support that location because it thinks the facility should move to a place closer to its current location.

Camillus Executive Director Dale Simpson acknowledged that relocating would be a tough sell to any community.

Simpson said a move is needed for the facility to remain effective by expanding its bed capacity and its treatment programs.

''We have to move, the demand is enormous,'' Simpson said. ``We have many more people looking for help today than two years ago.''

Simpson said Camillus House is distributing up to 50 crates of food a day, compared to about nine a day in 2000.

''People are struggling much more now,'' he said.

The preliminary plans calls for the CRA and Camillus to team up to build an $8 million modern facility.

CRA would raise the money from different local, state and federal sources and then loan or give the money to Camillus House, Teele said.

The CRA would give Camillus House the land on Northwest Second Avenue, which it owns, and in turn acquire the land where Camillus House now sits.

But the land swap could be complicated by a lawsuit filed against the city by the county to reclaim control of the property, Teele said.

The county claims the city has not used the land for redevelopment, as originally planned when the county gave it to the city.

Winton said that if Camillus House moves, it will overhaul the way it deals with the homeless.

The current facility, which is often surrounded by homeless people, provides mostly meals and temporary beds.

The new facility would include 100 beds for emergency shelter, 20 for substance abusers, 20 for a work program and 20 for medical care.

Winton said the new facility would be much like the nearby Homeless Assistance Center.

Services would be provided only within the building's boundaries and would include aggressive treatment and training programs to help keep the homeless off the street.

Loitering would not be allowed outside.

''The new Camillus House will become a part of the solution to the homeless problem,'' Winton said. ``Whereas today it doesn't help at all.''