(NewsNation) — City of Miami commissioners voted this week to pursue a pilot program to build a designated zone for people experiencing homelessness, despite some calling it a “bad idea” and “heartless.”
The program calls for the construction of 50 to 100 “tiny homes” on Virginia Key, an 863-acre barrier island.
The location is home to a summer camp for kids. A sewage plant is not too far away. And right across the water is one of the most expensive zip codes in the U.S.
Commissioners are calling the idea a “transition zone” and the plan would provide housing, food, showers, and even outreach services for some of Miami’s homeless population.
“In my opinion, this is not an encampment that is going to be a concentration camp,” said Commissioner Manolo Reyes. “Nobody’s forcing anybody.”
Florida has about 27,000 people who are experiencing homelessness, and the program would house only about 100, a small dent in the overall problem the Sunshine State faces.
Some commissioners framed the program as a solution to homelessness, but it’s also getting a lot of opposition.
Commissioner Ken Russell voted against the proposal.
“This is the opposite of a plan, this is a bad idea,” Russell said. “The answer is permanent supportive housing.”
Russell would instead like to turn the land into a soccer park for kids.
“It’s not about whether this location is right or that location is right, it’s about whether this is a good idea or a bad idea,” Russell said. “And this is a bad idea.”
In a statement to NewsNation, the Virginia Key Alliance said they were ignored in the selection process and wrote, in part, “Placing homeless on a small island with no residents, services or security to support their needs is heartless.”
Esther Alonso owns and runs the outdoor center on Virginia Key. She worries about what this plan will mean for her employees and the kids who come to the park.
“There are children here, this is a beach. And we’re going to bring a large population of primarily homeless men … and we’re going to put them next to a swimming beach where people are running around in swimsuits?” Esther Alonso said. “I don’t know that’s a good mix.”
According to Commissioner Russell, the plan doesn’t consider essential support infrastructure and services.
“They don’t even have access to anything here, even just groceries or a job,” he said. “That’s not within reach of this island. We are miles from anything here.”
Alonso also pointed out Virginia Key’s exposure to the elements and lack of infrastructure.
“This is a harsh environment. When it gets bad, when it gets really humid, or the heat is unbearable, or the mosquitoes are so thick, we can leave,” she said. “If you’re living here, you can’t. This is it. And it’s a two-mile walk out through a mangrove forest, with a road in between.”
“This is not the friendliest environment for residential accommodations,” she said.
The City of Miami has made efforts to clean up tent cities and encampments in recent years and the Virginia Key is only one of a few options on the table right now.
Commissioners are scheduled to again address the pilot program specifics in September.