Camillus land deal goes to state after city approves new facility
By Deserae del Campo
Miami city commissioners last week unanimously gave approval for Camillus House to establish a new shelter with several hundred beds amid protests and support from neighboring residents.
Resident René Walker complained that the new facility, to be built at 1603 NW Seventh Ave., is "too close" to areas in the neighborhood where children congregate. "This new facility is 540 feet from Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School, 900 feet from St. Francis Xavier Catholic School and 860 feet from Broward Circle Park. This is not safe for our children."
Camillus House officials have been trying since 1984 to move into a bigger facility than its shelters near Miami Arena and in Allapattah that also serves as a job training facility.
Camillus House and University of Miami officials agreed last year to trade adjoining parcels on Northwest Seventh Avenue. The charity plans to construct a three-story, 340-bed shelter, rehabilitation facility and townhouse complex on the land currently owned by the state and the university between 17th and 20th streets.
UM officials plan to build a 1.4 million-square-foot biosciences center on land at Northwest Seventh Avenue currently leased by Camillus House.
The land-swap deal now goes to the state for review.
The charity currently operates 14 facilities in the county ranging from emergency shelters to transitional housing to job training centers.
The costs to build a new shelter is estimated at $30 million and a town-home complex for people who complete a rehabilitation program $24 million.
"Camillus House is a good thing to keep people off the streets, but some of them still want to hang out in front of people's businesses," said Overtown resident Darrel Roberts. "This is a bad idea."
"I live in Overtown," said Karen Cartwright, "and I hear the complaints of the people in the community. If we work as a team, we would not have to worry about the homeless. Our children are our business, and the homeless need a place to go."
Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones expressed apprehension about the plan before voting for it. "This new shelter is in my district, and how the residents in my district will be affected by this has not been considered at all," she said. "The issue of homelessness is a big issue. The reality of the situation, no matter how we look at it, will have an effect on the businesses and the residents in Overtown.
"The homeless have got to go somewhere, and we have to be able to take care of those people. I want to continue to support them and Camillus House," she said. "We have to make sure all necessary outreach happens before it goes up because there are still about 7,000 residents that still don't know the project is coming."
During the meeting, commissioners asked that conditions be placed on the deal, including creation of an advisory board that would report twice annually to city officials on Camillus House's operations.
Also, city officials asked for a "transition plan" to rehabilitate homeless people coming to the shelter and to require an off-duty police officer to patrol the new facility.
"The new Camillus House operations will not be like the old one," said Paul Ahr, president of the organization. "That would be unacceptable to me."
Security at Camillus House has been an issue "for many years," he said. "We will make a commitment that there will be sufficient security."
Commissioner Joe Sanchez said he supports Camillus House's efforts. "Homelessness has no color, religion or nationality, and there are other individuals a paycheck away from being out in the street," he said. "We cannot ignore this problem because this is everyone's problem. We can only resolve it if we work together."