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Fort Lauderdale trashed their belongings. Now, 10 homeless people will share $40,000

Fort Lauderdale trashed their belongings. Now, 10 homeless people will share $40,000
Rain pours down on a homeless encampment in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on May 20, the day after a raid on another homeless camp that led to a lawsuit against the city. (Joe Cavaretta / AP)

Ten homeless people whose belongings were destroyed by the city of Fort Lauderdale will split $40,120 as part of a lawsuit settlement.

The city was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Legal Counsel for the city’s May 19, 2017, raid on a homeless camp downtown. Front-end loaders rolled into the high-profile encampment outside the county’s Main Library, and the city “unlawfully seized and destroyed” property, the lawsuit alleged.

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Homeless people who were present were able to retrieve their belongings. Others, like Anthony Stone, lost “all that he had — four bags of clothes, mail, family photos, his grandmother’s jewelry and his reading glasses,” the lawsuit said.

“I didn’t get my possessions back; however, the award has allowed me the opportunity to obtain housing and get off the street,” Kevin Rice, one of the plaintiffs, said in a written statement issued by the ACLU and Southern Legal Counsel. City commissioners voted in June to approve the settlement for $82,020.

Half the money will go to the two nonprofits to “cover the costs of litigation and mediation,” the ACLU’s Jacqueline Azis said in an email. “Whatever is left after covering those costs will be divided between our two nonprofit organizations.”

Azis declined to say whether the 10 homeless people will split the $40,120 evenly but said the amount “is substantial to them and will have a meaningful impact in their lives.”

After the park was razed by heavy equipment, the city enclosed it in temporary fencing and closed it for 30 days. City Manager Lee Feldman said the state health department had shut it down because of a rat infestation.

“When the Department of Health had to intervene,” Mayor Jack Seiler told a crowd at a public event soon after, “we had to act.”

The South Florida Sun Sentinel later reported that records showed the city had ratted itself out to the state health department.

Dean Trantalis, then a commissioner and now mayor of Fort Lauderdale, called the city’s actions a “total disgrace” at the time, saying he was ”fully ashamed” it had been done.

City officials have said they’re willing to help the homeless, but they don’t want them camping in the middle of downtown. The city is working with the county and courts to find a solution. The encampment returned to the site but edged closer to the county-owned library so that it’s no longer on city property. The county is still considering how to close the camp and help those living there find housing.

“The actions of the city were clearly misguided,” Trantalis said Wednesday. “When I think about the money spent, and resources that could have been devoted to helping the homeless instead of trying to shoo them out of the city, I am now relieved that the new commission has embraced a more sympathetic and realistic approach to working through our homeless situation.”

Wallman writes for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

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