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Miami Herald - Apr. 26, 2002

By Oscar CorraL

Despite strong opposition from neighbors, the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency voted four to one Thursday to designate a site in Overtown for the relocation of the Camillus House facility for homeless people.

Miami city commissioners, sitting as the CRA board, decided their preferred site is at 160 NW Seventh St., with an alternative site at 1900 NE Miami Ct.

Camillus House has 75 days to decide either to move to one of those sites or choose another. Any site must be given final approval by the City Commission.


Trying to relieve the fears of opponents, Camillus House Director Dale Simpson said the new facility will not look anything like the current one but will be a state-of-the-art homeless-assistance facility similar to the nearby Homeless Assistance Center.

''I would ask the community to understand that Camillus House has no intention of replacing the facility on First Avenue with anything that looks like that now,'' he said.

About 20 people spoke against moving Camillus to either site, saying it would bring more crime, drug use and blight to their neighborhoods.

''Why can't you all put it someplace else?'' said Linda Watson, an Overtown resident.

Jacqui Colyer, an Overtown homeowner and activist, vowed to fight the move all the way. She argued that if the new facility is going to be so state-of-the-art, it should not move.

''No one is opposed to keeping it where it is, except the people who plan to redevelop it and make a million dollars,'' Colyer said.

Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he would not support Camillus' move, because ``what my community doesn't want, I must oppose.''

About 40 people also attended the meeting to support moving the facility, most of them wearing Camillus House T-shirts.

''I have a new look on life today because of Camillus House,'' said Bobbie Bradley, who once was homeless and now lives in the area. ``They are opening doors for me. I support them.''

In the end, the CRA voted to invite Camillus House to apply to the city for a $10 million loan from the agency's share of U.S. Housing and Urban Development money.

If Camillus moves to a lot owned by the CRA, the agency would swap land with Camillus and demolish the existing Camillus structure.

If Simpson deems the two proposed sites unsuitable within 75 days, he can propose his own site.


He said he is now searching for existing buildings as well as vacant lots for the new facility. Construction is likely to cost up to $15 million for a facility considerably larger and better suited to assist the homeless than the existing one, Simpson said.

Influential real estate broker Edie Laquer, who has many clients who own property around the current location, is helping Simpson in his search.

Laquer knows that efforts to move Camillus House in the past have failed, but she said she's determined to find a site that suits Camillus House and the neighborhood.

''I'm going to get it done if it's the last thing I do,'' Laquer said.