Attorney in Pottinger Agreement termination: 'Criminalization of homelessness is a harmful policy'

By Carrie Bradon | Feb 22, 2019

MIAMI -- The city Miami recently filed a motion to request that a protections agreement for homeless be terminated, arguing that there are enough current services to care for the homeless.

And the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida has ruled that the Pottinger Agreement is no longer a necessary system for the city to uphold. A 1998 protections statute the Pottinger Agreement prohibited the harassment of homeless people by the police when they took part in certain activities, such as sleeping on the sidewalk, cooking food in a fire or urinating in public. The agreement argued that these practices were required for the homeless to survive and that it was, therefore, unfair for police to interfere with these actions.

The new ruling states there are numerous services for the homeless that should solve previous issues that the Pottinger Agreement was enacted to solve.

Stephen Schnably, professor of law at the University of Miami and a cooperating attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as one of the plaintiff's attorneys in the Pottinger case, has commented on the ruling and what it will mean for the homeless who reside in Miami.

Stephen Schnably   Courtesy of Schnably

"The city does have a legitimate reason for wanting to keep the city clean but the problem was that there were reports of people having their property destroyed, including clothes, IDs, but also being told not to come back, which is what led us to go to court," Schnably told Florida Record

Judge Frederico Moreno ruled Feb. 15 that he was granting the motion to terminate the agreement, a decision to which Schnably and his team expressed disappointment.

"I think it's always important to think about this as a matter of policy, in that criminalization of homelessness is a very harmful policy both to the individual but also to the public, because if you are living on the streets or in a homeless shelter and your belongings are just disposed of as garbage, it can be very hard to get your ID back and it can be harmful to people's health," Schnably said. "Arrest records also make it harder to find housing and get jobs, but the cost of arrests also impact the public."

Schnably said his team will closely follow the decision and hopes the city will continue to uphold some of the protections of the homeless that the Pottinger Agreement introduced.

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