For the past three years, executives for All Aboard Florida, now known as Brightline — the private railroad line that will connect Miami and Orlando — have been trying to secure funding, conducting studies, and holding meetings. Although the project remains controversial — it's had trouble attracting investors, critics have filed lawsuits, and Brightline hasn't even said how much tickets will cost — the first leg of the trip from Miami to West Palm Beach is slated to launch in 2017. Construction has started on the Miami and Fort Lauderdale stations.
In Fort Lauderdale, residents have noticed an uptick in development over the past six months in the area surrounding the new station, to be located near Broward Central Terminal and the Fort Lauderdale City Hall. But homeless people occupy that area. Now, on a blog called Resist Fort Lauderdale Homeless Hate Laws, homeless rights activists have documented that the empty lots and fields that many homeless people once inhabited are fenced off.
“Basically, All Aboard Florida is given priority over people who actually live there now,” Nathan Pim tells New Times. Pim runs the website and is also a Food Not Bombs member. “The bigger picture is that there’s no plan for where else these folks may go.”
Pim and other homeless rights activists believe that this is just the latest burden placed upon Fort Lauderdale’s homeless population. In 2014, Fort Lauderdale made international news after passing a city law that dictated all outdoor Fort Lauderdale feeding sites would require a permit, permission from property owners, and certain amenities like toilets and sinks. A handful of activists who share food with the homeless was suddenly arrested, including two clergymen and 90-year-old Arnold Abbott. Activists have called the city ordinance “a homeless hate law.”
City of Fort Lauderdale spokesman Chaz Adams confirms that none of the properties mentioned are owned by the city. New Times also reached out to All Aboard Florida. We'll update this post if we hear back.
“Wherever fences go up, there will be real estate development. Wherever it’s derelict, fencing is going up,” says the homeless blogger behind the Facebook page called Invisible People Fort Lauderdale, a man who prefers to remain anonymous but who has lived on the streets for the past four years. “The whole block around City Hall got fenced in. Everything has a fence on it and is probably going to be a condo.”
But not everyone is objecting to the fences. Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, tells New Times that property owners are well within their rights to build fences around their properties. In fact, Book explains that he advocated for fencing being built in the area under the expressways in Miami. He felt leaving them open was a safety hazard.
“Fencing might displace some, but it’s about balancing interests,” Book explains. “It might help homeless people get the help they need. Living on the streets is not a way of life that I find acceptable. I’m working to end homelessness.”
One homeless man, who didn't give his name, supported the fences: "It smells like poop there. I'm glad they're cleaning it up."
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Fifty-seven-year-old Patrick Padilla has been homeless since April after his mother, with whom he was living, moved into a nursing home. He suffers from edema, a condition that causes excessive swelling in the body. While Padilla is saddened by all the fences, his biggest concern these days is the plummeting temperature.
“I’m trying to find a sweater and a place to hide tonight,” he said Tuesday. “Maybe a stairwell in a parking lot if I can sneak in. The problem I’ve found is that you can escape the rain or you can escape the wind but not both.”
If he’s unsuccessful, he says he’ll spend the night walking around the streets to keep warm.
“I did that last night,” Padilla says, patting his legs. “Now they’re swollen from my ankles to my thighs.”