A street-solicitation ban in Miramar went into effect Monday, and Sean Cononie, founder of the Homeless Voice shelter in Hollywood is not happy -- in fact, he's "confused" by Miramar's claim that the ban is meant to ensure safety. Cononie's shelter is largely funded by its residents, clad in neon yellow "Homeless Voice" vests and selling the affiliated street newspaper at busy intersections. Now, the 28 homeless paper peddlers who spent one to two days a week in Miramar must relocate elsewhere. "It's not about safety; it's, 'Get the homeless out of our streets; they're undesirable people,'" Cononie says.
"This is one of the most dangerous places for pedestrians in the county," Assistant Chief of Police Ray Black told the Sun-Sentinel. "We're all challenged by the high volume of cars and pedestrian activity."
But Cononie does not think a ban is the answer. "I think we're going to have to sue them," Cononie says. He sent city officials an email requesting a meeting to establish a compromise but says he is ready to "play hard ball" after receiving no response. "I'm going to hit them every which way possible because I'm not going to let this happen again... That really pisses me off to no end." Cononie says that since Miramar outlawed panhandling, they should also do away with walking in public and biking if city officials are really concerned about safety.
Cononie points out that cities want him to house their homeless residents but want to simultaneously cut his source of funding. "If each city gave us $2,000 a month, we'd be all right [without selling papers]," he says.
Ginny Dangola, who works at the Homeless Voice, says the shelter is losing $2,500 to $3,000 a week because of the ban. The shelter is retooling its routes and sending two vans of paper-sellers to Miami, instead of one. Dangola says some of the paper peddlers had become such a familiar part of the Miramar landscape that many city residents have called the shelter asking where they have gone. One Miramar woman even used to cook dinner for two paper vendors every Saturday.
To make matters worse, according to Dangola and Cononie, Miramar police called the shelter at 1 a.m. and dropped off a homeless woman who was eight months pregnant weeks before the ban went into effect. "We should bear the expense, but they don't give us the opportunity to collect the funds," Dangola says.
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Tania Rues, the Miramar Police Department Public Information Officer, called to give us more insight into the new ban. "This is not something that's targeting the homeless, on the contrary, it is a safety issue," Rues says. "We have seen children out there" soliciting money for their athletic teams, and the 2006 case of a vehicular homicide of a homeless man remains unsolved. "A lot of ressearch went into this," Rues says, "and how to best create an ordinance that would increase safety, but that at the same time would not restrict these individuals from soliciting."
"We had our traffic unit go out and identify which intersections were most dangerous," she says. Though the ban only includes the most perilous streets for pedestrians, those also happen to be the most profitable high-traffic areas -- which is why the Homeless Voice is so upset.
"I do understand that, yes, they go to these high traffic areas because there is an opportunity to get an increase in contributions, but at the same time there's a significant increase in putting their safety on the line," Rues says.
"In the end, it's just about safety," she says. "We don't want another tragedy."