Jun 4, 2024 - News

As Miami heats up, advocates say unhoused people at greater risk

Illustration of thermometers with increasing temperatures falling over like dominos

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As local organizations work to protect the city's unhoused population from extreme heat, they face a daunting challenge: new rules restricting where people can sleep.

Why it matters: Miami recorded the hottest May in history, and experts are warning of an even hotter summer, raising concerns about how heat-related illnesses could impact the city's most vulnerable populations.

  • "In general, Miami summers are uncomfortable. Now that we have escalating heat, it's life threatening," David Perry, founder and executive director of Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, tells Axios.

Threat level: "Extreme heat impacts a lifespan [especially for the unhoused]," he says, "and we're really concerned about a large number of deaths that may occur this summer."

State of play: Miami's heat season began May 1 and runs through the end of October. Similar to previous years, Miami-Dade County officials are overseeing a campaign that includes educational outreach, departmental workshops and community aid distribution efforts.

  • Officials have been distributing cooling towels, electrolyte packets, neck gaiters and ice packs to unhoused people, Ludovica Martella, heat program coordinator in the Miami-Dade County Office of Resilience, tells Axios.
  • There are also cooling sites — at public libraries and parks — around the county people can visit daily to escape the heat.

By the numbers: So far, about 120 individuals have used the county's cooling sites, Ron Book, chair of the county-led Homeless Trust, tells Axios.

  • The organization has distributed around 1,400 bottles and cans of water, about 260 face coverings and cold packs, and about 100 packs of electrolytes.

Friction point: Despite the outreach efforts, some say a new state law and local ordinances have made it difficult to reach unhoused people.

  • Perry says he's received complaints from organizations like Miami Street Medicine, a nonprofit clinic that provides free services to unsheltered individuals, because they can't find their patients.

Flashback: In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure prohibiting cities and counties from allowing people to sleep in public places and allowing local governments to create homeless camps if shelters are full. It goes into effect on Oct. 1.

  • Meanwhile, Miami Beach has ramped up enforcement of its anti-camping law, which was altered in October to enable police to arrest people for sleeping in public, according to the Miami Herald.

There are also fewer cooling sites compared to last year — which officials attribute to smaller parks' inability to host large groups — and few are open on Sundays, with most closed at night.

  • "This is where [concern about the] ordinances come in," Maria Claudia Schubert-Fontes, climate justice program manager at Catalyst Miami, tells Axios. "Where do people go once these centers close?"

What they're saying: Criminalization policies are "endangering people's health," Perry said. Officials are "evicting people [from] where they've found some type of solace [and] they're putting people in harm's way."

  • Heat stress is already harmful, he adds, "but when you evict people from under bridges and when you destroy their tents, you're directly putting them into harm's way of extreme heat."

The other side: In Miami Beach, officials have said the city's efforts are a form of "tough love" and will encourage people to enter a shelter, per the Herald.

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