Activists Host Downtown Walking Tour of Corruption and Homeless Blight

Worth millions of dollars each year, activists accuse city officials of focusing solely on luxury development.EXPAND
Worth millions of dollars each year, activists accuse city officials of focusing solely on luxury development.
Jess Swanson

Wanna get to know the shady, lesser-known ties between officials and developers and how this collusion has benefited corporate interests at the cost of the homeless people?

Follow Food Not Bombs activist Nathan Pim to ten sites from FAT Village to Riverwalk. They call it the corruption tour. The first one took place this past weekend. 

"We wanted to do something from the perspective of people who suffer, rather than profit, from downtown development," Pim says. "Our goal is to get people involved.."

On Saturday afternoon, two dozen people met at Stranahan Park, where Pim, with a scraggly beard and informative poster, explained the effect of the park's drastic makeover in the last five to ten years on the homeless. The city paid $240,000 to put in more bushes and $50,000 in new fencing that aimed to keep the homeless out. Taxpayers also spent $28,000 on signs geared toward dissuading panhandling.

Next came Fort Lauderdale City Hall, where commissioners and boards have siphoned money from federal and state governments to increase police spending while mismanaging $78,000 intended to help homeless people. So-called "homeless hate laws" have banned storage, sharing, camping, and panhandling. 

Activists Host Downtown Walking Tour of Corruption and Homeless BlightEXPAND
Jess Swanson

Next, Pim stopped at an empty field with a poster promising future development of more condos. Activists spoke about how monies from the Northwest/Progresso/Flagler Heights Community Redevelopment Agencies are unfairly directed at the wealthier eastern reaches of the district. Activists accuse city officials of focusing solely on luxury development. Though they say a handful of new condos have sprouted up since 2013, none have been in the historically black Sistrunk neighborhood. Why? They point to vested interests of CRA board members, one of whom plans a $24 million hotel on an empty downtown lot that the homeless have typically inhabited. 

At FAT Village, overlooking the recently graffitied warehouse studios, Pim explained that the arts sector gentrified that section of Fort Lauderdale. He points to apartment lofts that he said spurred a luxury building boom in downtown. "Historically, they say this was a high-crime neighborhood when really it used to be more part of Sistrunk than downtown," Pim said. 

Next came a giant Banyan tree. For at least six years, this area was a gathering place for the homeless to connect to different services, like dentists, rehab, bus passes, and clothes. But in June 2015, it shuttered (many link it to the vagrants that congregated near the property). It used to service 60 people a day, and more than a year later no similar location has been created, said Pim's wife and fellow Food Not Bombs activist Jillian Pim. 

"Where's the money going to the people who are being displaced?" Nathan Pim asked rhetorically.

With Brightline construction already underway, the central bus terminal has already increased its police presence. They remind the audience of the Fort Lauderdale cop who pushed a homeless man to the ground and then slapped him because he was illegally sleeping on a bench at the terminal. Activists report that the volume of music has been increased to make it undesirable for homeless to sleep there and point to the green bicycle path leading to the terminal — another symptom of gentrification.

At Government Center, activists discuss the county's Continuum of Care board, a 27-member advisory group that represents homeless interests and tries to end homelessness. Though the building's windows overlook Stranahan Park, activists say that the majority of the board is out of touch with homeless people and their needs and concerns. "Have them come out here and take the tour!" suggested one homeless man who had dropped in on the tour. 

Further down at Riverwalk, Nathan Pim noted an increase in security. He says rent-a-cops in yellow shirts target homeless people who  make wealthier patrons and tourists uncomfortable. 

The last stop was Riverfront, abandoned and mostly shuttered. It's unclear what developers will put here next, but with such valuable waterfront property, it will reshape the area and undoubtedly push the poor and homeless people further away. 

"Local governments... just aren't geared towards public participation," Pim says. "Without [this], it is much much easier to get away with things that don't make any sense, like leasing a supposedly public park or passing an antihomeless law."

Nathan Pim plans to host more tours in the future to educate the public. He says there are talks about launching more educational tours in other areas in Broward, including Sistrunk. They are free. For more information, visit the Food Not Bombs Facebook Page

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