(Weekly Update #217)

Dear Members and Advocates,

I don’t know why I am so affected by the death of someone I’ve never met and never spoken to. People die all the time. Family gets sick, mass shootings are a daily headline, and death is an inevitable reality of life. Still, for some reason when I heard that Ira had died, something inside me was triggered and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the emotion I was experiencing or why I felt it. It’s haunted my last few nights and I’m hopeful that expressing my thoughts in this weekly update will somehow be cathartic.

Last week, Ira was killed by a hit and run driver. Ira was a 71 year old man who was living homeless in Ft. Lauderdale. I never met him, but I’ve come to know of Ira about six years ago when the City of Ft. Lauderdale had cited him for living in violation of their Sex Offender Residency Restriction. Back then, Ira was in his mid-60’s, suffering from Diabetes and Glaucoma, and living off of $12,000.00 a year in government disability payments and food stamps. Being low income and far worse, on the sex offender registry, he was lucky to find an apartment unit that would rent to him. He was comfortable until the City of Ft. Lauderdale told him he had to leave. Not because he had done anything wrong, but because the City had come up with an arbitrary law that said anyone on the registry couldn’t live within a certain distance from schools, parks, day cares, playgrounds, school bus stops, etc.

Ira chose to fight his case and thanks to an incredible team I am honored to call friends, Ira was successful! At the time, Professor Kelly Socia, a GIS mapping expert found that only 1% of Ft. Lauderdale’s total stock of residential units was compliant with the SORR, and that of these, only 1%, (<.1% of all residential units) was both available and affordable at any given time. In other words, for the hundreds of people required to register in the city of Ft. Lauderdale and the dozens more being added each year, there were only ten (10) places for them to live. It’s almost like a very twisted game of musical chairs where the music stops and you’re homeless. Fortunately Ira was able to stay in his apartment for a few years after, but then came our current real estate boom. Property values soared and Ira’s landlord understandably couldn’t let him stay at his current rent, which left him homeless. He did have a sister who lived close by, but her home was within an exclusion zone and he couldn’t stay there. Things were bad, but they became far more dire a few months ago when Ira was diagnosed with cancer. He was approved for surgery, but when his doctors learned he was homeless, they couldn’t perform the procedure and then send him out to the streets to recover. He needed to find a place to stay, but there was nowhere for Ira to lawfully reside. No rehab or assisted living facility would take him and pretty much everywhere in Broward County was off limits because of the unyielding residency restrictions.

Looking back, I probably became very vested in trying to help Ira because he represented my biggest fear. What if the laws change and I get booted from my home? What if I get sick? Where am I going to live when I’m older? How will I survive on the streets? The reality of Ira’s situation made all the hypotheticals that have been ruminating in my mind for years feel inevitable. I needed to do something for Ira NOW, because I’m going to need someone to step up and do the same for me one day.

Over the next few weeks several people came forward to try and help Ira. His former treatment provider, his former lawyer, several at FAC and his family. There were many people who cared and wanted to help, but unfortunately the ones who cared are powerless to change an incredibly cruel ordinance that is not only indifferent to the human suffering it causes, but indifferent to the fact that it’s been proven ineffective. We cared, but we needed those who had the power to make a difference understand the issue and care also. We reached out to the housing coalitions, politicians and even the media. We begged and pleaded for help in what was literally a life or death situation. To be blunt, nobody gave a shit.

Don’t get me wrong. There were some incredibly generous FAC members that offered to take him into their homes and care for him and we were exploring an option of finding him treatment in another state where he could live with his brother. Whether for logistical reasons or simply time running out we didn’t get there, because Ira was killed by a car while crossing the street. Police still have not found the driver who stopped, got out, saw Ira lying in the road 100 feet away and then took off, but that’s irrelevant. Ira should have never been on the streets. Someone that old, frail and suffering from a terminal illness should not have been required to be homeless when he could have been safely living in his sister’s home a few miles away, with a roof over his head, recovering from surgery and being cared for by his family.

Initially I felt tremendous guilt. If I had only done more, he would be alive today. I tried very hard for the first few weeks, but when I kept running into brick walls, my efforts waned. If I had only given it one more push, perhaps that would have been the solution. If I had only reached out to one more politician I could have found someone with the compassion and common sense to propose legislation. Who knows what could have been different, but the reality was that Ira is dead and I failed him.

There was also something inside me that I’m ashamed to admit I felt. Relief. As horrible as it is to acknowledge, a part of me felt relived that Ira’s suffering is over. If I were sick and relegated to live on the streets for the rest of my life, I would rather be put out of my misery. As sad as I am for the loss his family is experiencing, I’m hopeful they find comfort in the belief that he is now resting peacefully. It’s also sad to think that many of the people subjected to lifelong residency restrictions would be better off dead than being dumped on the way they are, and even sadder to think that many people don’t care about that fact and still believe the registry is “not punishment”. Not only is it punishment, but it’s cruel and unusual punishment!

Which leads me to the last emotion I’m feeling. Anger. Surprisingly I’m not angry at the hit and run driver who left him to die on the street like an animal, but I’m angry at our community and political leaders who did the same. They also left Ira to die on the street like an animal. This past weekend, Florida Bulldog featured an article that said Broward County (where Ira lived and died) is at the epicenter of the nation’s housing crisis and the leaders of its 15-member “Broward Housing Council” are not even showing up! Two politicians haven’t show up to a single meeting this year and the meetings themselves are sometimes cancelled or last only a few minutes without any agenda. South Florida is in the midst of a crisis and you have individuals in our population who have places they can stay, but we’re dealing with a Broward “Housing Council” that’s derelict and a Miami-Dade “Homeless Trust” that’s led by the individual who single-handedly created this crisis to begin with! We’d love to vote these people out of their positions, but ironically we can’t vote! It’s so sad a situation it’s almost comical. So instead, we advocate tirelessly and we attend meetings and we try to educate a very misinformed and apathetic public and politicians. We beg and we plead and we trust that our efforts will not fall on deaf ears, but very often it does and sometimes, as in this case, someone dies when they don’t have to.

Despite never meeting or speaking to Ira, I am very impacted by his death and you should be too. One day you or the loved one that connects you to this organization will become old, will get sick or will need assisted living. Even if it’s for reasons completely unconnected with our cause, one day you will be in a hopeless situation, fighting for your life and praying that someone can extend to you the mercy and compassion of access to a basic human need that can potentially save your life. I hope for the sake of all humanity you are not treated like Ira was. And if you are reading this weekly update and are one of the individuals who accepted a position to serve the community, learned of Ira’s situation and chose to do nothing, shame on you!

That said; we all deserve a chance to do better. I deserve that chance and so do you. So let’s do better!

With my emotions expressed, I’m thinking ahead and determined not to let Ira’s death be in vain. I do not want to let let the same thing happen to someone else.  According to the FDLE, Broward has 374 homeless persons required to register as a sex offender. That number represents 30.3% of all of the registrants in Broward County. That statistic is insane! Miami-Dade is not far behind and neither is Palm Beach County.  The issue is prevalent across the entire state of Florida. Every state senator and representative and every county and city commissioner needs to take another look at residency restrictions because each and every day hundreds of human beings are forced to sleep, forced to use the toilet or forced to die on the streets because you choose to maintain a law that is completely ineffective and counter-productive. Look at the research and don’t take our word for it. Look at the studies from the federal government and even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Speak to those in law enforcement, corrections and reentry and ask what they think of these residency restrictions. And ask yourself honestly, does a law that prevents people from sleeping near schools and parks between 10PM and 6AM do anything to protect children who are not in school or parks between 10PM and 6AM?

We NEED to educate the public and we need to remind our political leaders of the inhumane collateral consequences resulting from their action or inaction. We need to abolish residency restrictions and we cannot wait another day!

If you don’t know where to begin, copy the summary that was recently posted on just “Some Conclusions about Residency Restrictions”  or refer to the library of studies and articles maintained by NARSOL.  You can also send an email to [email protected] and ask “where can I find the research?” and we will gladly send it to you.

Finally, even if you chose to do nothing, at least send us an email letting us know you read this weekly update and that you care. It will do nothing for the cause, but at least we will know that Ira’s death did not go unrecognized.


The Florida Action Committee


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