This time you can believe the headlines - and we'll all benefit
By Michael Lewis
Long-time readers may find last week's front-page headline, "Plan for new Camillus House facility in the works," all too familiar.
We've printed similar headlines for 21 years - a total of 10 failed deals to move the homeless shelter out of downtown Miami. Each came this close to success before someone derailed it.
Usually, the villain was the city, which ironically was desperate to move the shelter almost anywhere but where it sits at 726 NE First Ave., accommodating only 142 persons nightly in a thankless service to a neighborhood that wants Camillus House out - now.
The last such headline, Nov. 27, 2003, read, "Camillus House close to signing deal for move." Close, but not close enough. The city torpedoed a complex land swap that would have moved Camillus to 5 acres at Northwest 17th Street and Seventh Avenue, creating a 200,000-square-foot center that could handle vastly more of the county's 7,500 homeless than the present 29,000-square-foot shelter.
The city has always found a reason to keep Camillus House penned into inadequate space right where it is, forcing the homeless it serves to fill downtown streets daily as a result and degrading nearby areas.
Usually, when the shelter wants to move, neighbors of the proposed site pack a commission meeting to say they don't want it. The commission always buckles and denies the required permission to move.
Last time, in a new wrinkle, City Manager Joe Arriola demanded not only changes in the shelter's plans but also that the move be tied to a new police training facility next door.
This time, in the 11th bid to move, Commissioner Tomas Regalado has already weighed in with objections.
Nonetheless, six fortuitous circumstances now have aligned to accomplish what almost everyone wants.
First, the University of Miami got involved in the land swap. It helps to have a blue-ribbon university with considerable civic clout on your side.
Second, Camillus House has a new, strong leadership that has expunged the arrogance that sometimes turned city leaders against a credible cause.
Third, Camillus House has a workable plan to use a site far from large residential clusters to get the homeless off the streets, doing the most good for the community with the least possible cause for backlash.
Fourth, Miami's government has grown stronger and more reasonable. There should be no knee-jerk reactions at City Hall by administrators and few by commissioners who must ultimately bless a move. Camillus House needs three votes, and at least three reasonable persons now sit on the commission.
Fifth, the Performing Arts Center that will soon open would fail if homeless who couldn't get into Camillus House because the shelter was too small started packing sidewalks as concerts let out. Three planned museums in Museum Park would meet the same fate.
Sixth - and decisively - the surrounding neighborhood has gone five-star. Biscayne Boulevard is a construction zone just two blocks away as luxury high-rises begin to cast shadows over the shelter each morning.
Those towers should prove decisive. The city cannot let the homeless roam through its vaunted new model for living downtown, its cash cow for the municipal tax coffers and its showcase that is being marketed globally.
Before this newspaper moved to Brickell Avenue, it occupied an architecturally significant building at 840 Biscayne Blvd., in the heart of what is becoming a luxury-condo zone. We fled after dozens of homeless harried our two shifts of guards and a staff member was attacked.
No, the homeless generally aren't dangerous - but think of new luxury high-rises with homeless persons who couldn't get into Camillus House sleeping in doorways, as they did at Miami Today 15 years ago. This city cannot afford that disaster. That dictates that city leaders let Camillus House go where it can house more persons and keep them off city streets.
Many humanitarian reasons demand this. And from a practical economic viewpoint, there can be no other choice.
This time, today's headlines are tomorrow's reality - and everyone in Miami will win.