In Miami, a causeway in the middle of Biscayne Bay has become home to one of the county's least desirable populations: sex offenders.
What began a few years ago as a stopgap solution has become de facto public policy. For sex offenders with few resources who want to stay in Miami, there's just one option: an encampment of tents and shacks on the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
The encampment got started a few years ago, when Miami-Dade County, like other communities across the country, adopted an ordinance banning sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of anywhere that children gather.
It's a law that applies not just to sex offenders on probation but also to felons who have served their time — people like 31-year-old Juan Martin. He served an eight-year sentence for exposing himself to a teenaged girl.
After Martin got out of prison in 2006, his probation officer brought him to what at that time was just a small camp of several men and a few tents under the bridge on the causeway. After three years of living here, he's angry. He says, "The state is forcing you to live like an animal."
Right now, 67 people live here. And nearly every week, probation officers drop off sex offenders, recently released, who have nowhere else to go.
Voncel Johnson recently became the first woman who was told she'd have to live under the bridge. She says when her probation officer dropped her off at the camp, it was unexpected and frightening."I'm thinking she's bringing me to a three-quarter-way house," Johnson recalls. "But when I got here it was … pitch dark. The first thing I saw was men, and I'm the only lady here. … I broke down.
The fact is, about half the counties in Florida now have an ordinance similar to the one in Miami. There are fewer and fewer places sex offenders can legally live in the state after they are released from prison.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Sex Offenders Forced To Live Under Miami Bridge : NPR