Fla. teams may be fined for not housing homeless in stadiums

A general view during player introductions for Game One of the 2011 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Arena on May 31, 2011 in Miami.
Getty Images/Marc Serota
player introductions for Game One of the 2011 NBA Finals
According to the Miami Herald, it doesn't appear that a homeless shelter is functioning at the American Airlines Arena.
Getty Images/Marc Serota

In March, a homeless man made headlines in England when authorities discovered he had eluded security and been living in a secret hideaway underneath a pro soccer stadium.

Now, if some Florida legislators get their way, the homeless will not need to sneak into stadiums - they will be encouraged to seek refuge there. Either way, the teams who have neglected the homeless may have to fork over millions.

According to the Miami Herald, when the Florida legislature passed a bill in 1988 to get public money for stadiums, they included an obscure provision that required every taxpayer-funded pro team (as well as MLB teams with Florida spring training facilities) to house homeless people in their stadiums on non-event nights.

Over the past two dozen years, that provision has been totally ignored - until now. That's right: Senate Bill 816, which would force teams and stadium owners to pony up almost $300 million if they can't prove that they've been housing the homeless on non-event nights, passed with a unanimous vote by a Senate committee on Monday.

"We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium," said Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton. "I cannot believe that we're going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from the homeless and take it away from the poor and impoverished, and we're continuing to support people who are billionaires."

Under the law, teams are allowed to take up to $2 million per year of taxpayer money and the cumulative tally is soaring. According to the Herald, pro sports teams operating in Florida have taken $271,539,778 in public coffers - with the Marlins, Dolphins, Jaguars, Rays, Lightning, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Heat accounting for most of that figure.

It will be interesting to see if this unconventional bill actually is passed. And, if so, will these stadiums actually cough up millions to the community, not to mention start opening their doors to the homeless. As the Herald notes: "Based on the dozens of homeless people who sleep on the street two blocks west of American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami, it doesn't appear that a homeless shelter is functioning at the glitzy home of the Miami Heat."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com