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Homeless woman, 75, uses Fort Lauderdale lawsuit money to start over

South Florida Sun Sentinel

Until about a year ago, Holly Grant was living outdoors in downtown Fort Lauderdale’s homeless camp, with boxes and boxes and boxes of her belongings, all neatly stacked and covered with a tarp.

Now, thanks to a recent lawsuit settlement with the city, the 75-year-old self-described “hoarder” plans to buy a van, de-clutter her life and start anew.

“You can’t hold down a good woman,” Grant said from a gathering room in her low-income senior tower, as her Chihuahua, Sugar Pie Honey Bunch, nestled affectionately in her lap.

Grant was one of 10 homeless people who sued the city for destroying their belongings last year, when the camp was razed because of a rat infestation. Now living in what she terms a “penthouse” in Coral Springs, Grant said she’ll use her portion of the recent lawsuit settlement to buy a $2,000 van. She’ll fill it with items she said she hoarded in her apartment, and sell them at a flea market. And then, the future is hers.

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“When I had nothing, having so much stuff made me comfortable,” Grant said. “The fear of not having anything again filled my head.”

The city agreed to settle the lawsuit for $82,020. About half will go to the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Legal Counsel, who sued on behalf of the homeless people. Grant and nine others will share in the remainder. ACLU attorney Jacqueline Azis declined to say how much each plaintiff, including Grant, received.

Grant and at least one other homeless person have moved out of the camp and into housing. Grant said a woman in the Main Library next to the camp helped her find the $217-a-month, low-income senior tower last year, after the city’s raid.

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Fort Lauderdale commissioners met privately twice before voting to settle.
(City of Fort Lauderdale)

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In her boxes, Grant was storing $6,500 worth of jewelry, clothes, and treasures, she claimed in the lawsuit. The items had once filled the shelves at her antique store in Dania Beach, she said. She lived above the Federal Highway shop.

Redevelopment came, and so did a wrecking ball.

Grant had nowhere to go. She was homeless.

Though she’s a bit fuzzy on dates, she said she spent time in a homeless shelter in Pompano Beach, and eventually moved to the downtown Fort Lauderdale encampment.

A former Girl Scout who flashed her biceps to reporters, Grant slept in the open air, snuggling with a boyfriend. She might be 75, but if she doesn’t look in the mirror, she said from beneath pink-dyed bangs, she thinks she’s 41.

Grant said life is fleeting — she’s a “wisp of air” on a “ball of dirt.” In silver sequined sneakers.

There’s much she wants to do, though she’s excited to have her own place on the top floor.

“This is just a stepping stone,” she said. “I want to see the rest of the world.”

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Interim City Attorney Alain Boileau described her as “charming” to city commissioners in a closed-door meeting about the settlement, the now-public transcript says.

Grant was at church when the city’s front-end loaders rolled in on May 19, 2017, scooping up her boxes and throwing them away.

“The place was infested with rats,” Boileau said in the May closed door session. “ … They were crawling all over them at night. I mean, it was just horrible.”

The encampment returned, but shifted closer to the county’s library.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said “some downtown business people” were behind the city’s temporary removal of the encampment. “They were tired of it, and they wanted something done,” he said in the closed door session. The city then claimed the state health department was responsible, but Trantalis noted that the city itself was behind it.

“Everybody very soon came back,” he said, “and it’s worse than it was before.”

Azis said she’s not sure what others in the lawsuit will do with the money. For some, it might be “more money than they see in a year.” All of the people involved want out of the camp, and they want a place to live, she said — goals city officials and business leaders say they share.

“I think some of them have the wherewithal and the desire to possibly something positive with the money,” Boileau told commissioners at second closed-door session, in June. “Others, I think it’s a gamble. … All good people, but they have their demons that they’re dealing with.”

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Brittany Wallman can be reached at bwallman@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4541. Find her on Twitter @BrittanyWallman.


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