Two years after a colony of sex offenders famously camped under the Julia Tuttle Causeway -- one of few urban locations permissible by exponentially restrictive local laws -- Miami-Dade County Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has found a way to disperse a similar community growing on a corner in Shorecrest: he stuck two spring toys in the ground, threw up a sign, and christened it Little River Pocket Park.
The small patch of new public space effectively bars any additional sex offenders from moving to the area, as Miami-Dade law states that persons convicted can't live within 2,500 feet of schools or playgrounds.
“I can’t dislodge those who are there,’’ Sarnoff told The Miami Herald. “But this is to prevent any further sexual offenders from being put there by the state.”
Though the Florida Department of Corrections denies sending sex offenders to the corner of 10th Avenue and 79th Street, many among them told police they were directed to the spot by parole officers on admitting they'd nowhere to go -- prompting Sarnoff to take the lead in suing the FDOC.
His new park at a bend of 10th Avenue off 79th Street is blocked off by a guard rail. Boasting a giant tree covered with shrubs in the center, it features two spring rider toys in the ground and a carport frame without cover. Sandwiched between a construction site and a private home, the park’s uneven ground is littered with broken glass and pieces of concrete.
See photos of the park below.
Miami-Dade's sex offenders have had a notoriously difficult time finding a place to live because of the county’s rules. While Florida law bans registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, Miami-Dade County extended the law to 2,500 feet in 2005. The City of Miami Beach goes as far as not allowing sex offenders to live within that distance to any location "where children regularly congregate."
“We have had an issue for a long time with these ordinances or policies that restrict or move former offenders from place to place, and in essence, put a lifetime penalty on people,” ACLU Florida communications director Derek Newton told HuffPost Miami.
The Julia Tuttle Causeway encampment was broken up in 2010, and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust paid for temporary housing at apartments for those who were actively looking for jobs and housing. No solution for those currently living at the corner in Shorecrest has yet been proposed.
“The problem exists statewide, and until such time that we find a way to build affordable housing away from the general population to house predators and offenders in a price range that they can afford to pay, we’ll continue to have a problem,” said Ron Book, a lobbyist and the chairman of the board for the Trust. The 2,500-foot law is named in honor of his daughter, Lauren, who was abused for six years by her nanny.
There are places that meet the 2,500-foot law, Book said, but many freed offenders may not be aware of their locations. He told HuffPost the Trust is willing to help lead them in the right direction.
PHOTOS: See photos of Little River Pocket Park: