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Debate Over Downtown Miami's Homeless Population

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The big debate over what to do with Miami's homeless population is on.

The political debate pits the Miami City Commission against county's Homeless Trust over what should be done with people who live on the streets of downtown Miami.

While the City Commission, led by Chairman Marc Sarnoff, wants to change the Pottinger v. Miami ruling, Homeless Trust chairman Ron Book feels that the change will only lead to warehousing the homeless, according to CBS4's partner The Miami Herald.

"That won't happen while I'm chairman," Book told the paper. "They'll have to cart me out."

The Pottinger law prevents police from arresting homeless people for 'life sustaining activities' such as sleeping on the street without first offering them shelter.

Last week, Miami City Manager Johnny Martinez offered to pay for 15 new beds in the city's homeless shelters if  Homeless Trust funded another 85.

Book said more beds are not the answer, it only warehouses the city's homeless.

Although the Pottinger case has expanded the amount of public services for the homeless, Book prefers a longer-term approach that will provide intensive mental health, social services and transitional housing.

However, some business owners aren't too happy with that current law.

Owners said the homeless run their customers away, which is the reason there is less business in the district. They have complained that some of the "life-sustaining" activities allowed pose a threat to public safety, according to the paper.

The City is pushing to change that.

First, they plan to petition the judge to change the definition of "life-sustaining conduct" to exclude fires in parks, obstructing sidewalks, littering and lewd misconduct such as urinating in public.

They also want to give police officers the power to arrest homeless people who refuse to go to a shelter three times in 180 days.

Any of the proposed changes would need the approval of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Michael Pottinger and several other homeless people in the original lawsuit. ACLU attorneys have been meeting with city attorneys, but have said they doubt they will easily find consensus.

Sarnoff would also like to see 100 new shelter beds in the city. City officials are willing to contribute about 15-percent of the cost, or about $164,000. They'd like to see the Homeless Trust pick up the remainder of the expense from its $52 million budget.

The Miami Herald has contributed to this report.

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