Miami Board of Commissioners’ Worrisome Vote on Homelessness Encampment

The Miami-Dade board of commissioners voted to build a homeless encampment next to a Florida nature preserve in a 3-2 decision. The nature preserve in question? Virginia Key.

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The Miami-Dade board of commissioners voted to build a homeless encampment next to a Florida nature preserve in a 3-2 decision.1 The nature preserve in question? Virginia Key.

The proposed plan is to place tiny homes about a mile from the Virginia Beach nature preserve and then to move houseless individuals from the streets of Miami into the homes. Although building homes for the homeless may appear positive upon first glance, the area chosen on Virginia Key is far from resources and services that are available only on the mainland. City commissioner Ken Russell, who voted against the decision, commented that this location would be isolating already vulnerable individuals.2 As an island off the coast with poor public transit options, the location on Virginia Key would effectively quash the ability of those experiencing houselessness to access rehabilitation programs, grocery stores, and jobs.

Locals have also questioned whether this move is instead a zoning ploy, getting the foot in the door to changing Virginia Key’s waterfront property to a residential area to allow for further high-end developers to encroach after a few years to expand upon the primarily rich, white community on the neighboring Key Biscayne.3

Race and gentrification are central pillars in the discussion, and Miami’s only black City Commissioner, Christine King, supported the decision with the goal of keeping the development away from the City’s currently predominantly black neighborhoods of Overtown and Liberty City.4 Even still, placement on Virginia Key Beach is not the best choice either. Virginia Key Beach was an unofficial vacation haven for people of color during the segregation era, until a protest led by Judge Thomas in 1945 solidified its officially designated status.5 The beach itself is still heralded as an important part of local history.

It is extremely disheartening and disappointing that the city commission would approve to locate this development in a location that is both deeply tied to the local black community and ultimately unhelpful to the houseless population it is purporting to protect. As housing cost increases6 and gentrification rock the City of Miami to its core, it is vital that the Commission act in ways that center the conversation around current residents and people– instead of large developers.

Writer: Emma Sheridan (she/her)

Emma is a second year law student at the University of Miami. At Miami Law, Emma has started Rooted-In-Justice, a student-led gardening group that is working to bring students fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the campus garden. She is also the Communications Chair for the Insightful Mind Initiative at University of Miami and a current child guardian Ad Litem. During the summer of 2021, Emma served as a HOPE Summer Public Interest Fellow with the People’s Economic and Environmental Resiliency group, a non-profit group focused on promoting policies promoting environmental justice.


Editors: A’lycia Headley and Samantha Cristol

A’lycia Headley (she/her) LinkedIn:

A’lycia Headley is a Florida International University graduate with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences, with a focus in Law Business and Society, with a Minor in Business. During undergrad, she worked with local city officials to aid in developing homeless transition programs; her research areas emphasized governance, community collations, and sustainability. She is passionate about an equitable and sustainable community.


Samantha Cristol (she/her)

Samantha Cristol is a second year law student at Georgetown University Law Center. She received her undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and spent three years working in the construction management industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is passionate about environmental justice and building a world where the natural and built environments coexist in healthy and meaningful ways.

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