Nov 19, 2023 - News

People experiencing homelessness seek refuge at South Florida airports

Miami International Airport. Photo: Kena Betancur/VIEWpress/Getty Images

As travelers prepare to head home for the holidays, airports in South Florida and around the world have become shelters for those with nowhere to call home.

What's happening: Miami-Dade Aviation Department Communications Director Greg Chin tells Axios that people experiencing homelessness have also been trying to stay at Miami International Airport, which is prohibited by county code.

  • "Individuals attempting to stay on MIA property overnight who have no travel or business purpose at the airport are advised by airport security staff or law enforcement officers to move on," Chin says.
  • A report by WSVN earlier this month found that people have been living inside the Fort Lauderdale airport.

By the numbers: Miami-Dade Police recorded 352 such encounters during the six-month period ending in September, for an average of two per day, Chin tells Axios.

  • An increase was noticed at the onset of the pandemic.

What they're saying: Chin said the aviation department partners with Miami-Dade County's Homeless Trust to offer housing assistance and services.

  • "Historically, about 30% of the individuals who are offered this assistance accept it," he says. "Those who do not accept assistance are escorted off airport property, and those who return to MIA are issued trespass warnings, citations or placed under arrest by the Miami-Dade Police Department."

Zoom out: The phenomenon has been happening at airports around the world — such as Chicago, Cleveland, Palm Springs and Buenos Aires — prompting police to enforce trespassing laws.

Of note: Last month, members of the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to voice concerns to the United Nations Human Rights Committee that laws in the U.S. that criminalize homelessness amount to human rights abuses.

  • The UN committee issued its formal response this month, calling for the U.S. to abolish such policies and step up efforts to find solutions for the homeless, including redirecting funding from criminal justice responses toward housing and shelter.
  • Siya Hegde, a staff attorney at the National Homelessness Law Center who traveled to Geneva, said in a statement that "the U.S. government's approach to solving homelessness must focus away from systems and policies that harm our unhoused neighbors and towards the true solution to homelessness: safe, affordable and dignified housing."

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