Fort Lauderdale News from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on October 19, 1980 · Page 23
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Fort Lauderdale News from Fort Lauderdale, Florida · Page 23

Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 19, 1980
Page 23
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21 B j - , . i J i rJi i vi i .i -j .i ... Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, Sunday, Oct. 19, 1980 Out of luck Annual influx of destitutes begins when fall winds blow By Jim Mellowitz and Helen Rojas Surf Wrlterg . t The muscles on George's tatooed 'arms twitch so much his whole .body shakes. He cradles his head in his hands under the trees at Fort Lauderdale's Holiday Park, !murmuring, "I'm all right, I'm all Jrlght. Don't worry about me." j George is drooling a little bit, perhaps remembering the times he Jwent through alcohol detoxification. His three friends boast that George is the champion of the de- toxers. A woman with a badly bloodshot eye holds his hand. "He needs a drink man. Can't you see? This is what it's all about. You never seen anything like this have you? You think we're weird? This is what we're all about." A dollar bill is produced. Fleeting salvation. Enough for a beer and the mere taste of alcohol will be enough, they say, to stop the shakes. George's friend Jim trades the bill for a tall can of Budweiser. . "You see, we'll do anything to help one of our buddies out. He'd do the same for me. George just ain't had a drink today. He'll get over it." George is still shaking, drawing the icy can to his lips. . It's a scene repeated endlessly. With winter coming, Fort Lauderdale and much of Florida can expect the annual influx of "tourists without resources," as one police official calls them. They will sleep on the same benches and under the same bridges, relieve themselves on the same store walls, twitch under the same trees in Holiday Park. Police complain their hands are tied when it comes to removing the bums. Numerous city ordinances designed to limit vagrancy, public sleeping and public drinking have ' been struck down as unconstitutional. As long as a person is not caught committing a crime, such as trespassing, being a rootless indigent is no crime. Social service agencies also are limited in what they can do. ' . While several offer free food and a place to stay, these are at best a temporary solution. None has the . power to force vagabonds to work or take charge of their lives. And none, including the alcohol rehabilitation services, has the power to force an alcoholic to dry out. "Bums, hippies and the like, most of them are really aesthetic problems," laments Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Leo Callahan. "We can't deal with aesthetic problems. There's nothing illegal about not working." "The public has not yet accepted the fact that there is no law against (being a derelict)," says Bill Brady, deputy chief. "We as police have accepted it. We don't like it, but we accept it." Even if charged, there is no room in the jail to hold the misdemeanor criminal. As of last week, more than 750 inmates crowded the Broward County Jail, more than 100 over the court-imposed limit. The result is that misdemeanor charges, such as urinating in public, are considered "frivolous," according to Brady. "Quite frankly, vagrancy isn't an important issue today. We're deep in homicides. Even if we had the laws, where do you think vagrants would be on my priority list?" And apparently even among the public, vagrancy is a low priority. Few people complain. Notes Chuck Emerson of the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce: "We don't hear very much Treatment Long-term, solutions to the problem of getting bums off the streets and keeping them off are elusive, but they do exist. Local police officials feel the answer is tougher laws, more jail space and a court system that is willing to crack down on vagrancy as a crime. Some health officials, on the oth-'er hand, feel the ultimate answer is mandatory or long-term "re-socialization" programs that get a bum off the bottle, give him a place to live and train him to become a productive part of society. An example of a city with tough anti-bum laws is Daytona Beach. But there, as in Fort Lauderdale, police officials are frustrated with a court system that treats misde-meaner crimes lightly or not at all. "The courts are not cooperating," said Daytona Police Captain Barry Neall. "Many of the police here feel we're wasting our time. The courts figure they have (to release misdemeanor criminals) to save room for the serious criminals. Neall claimed that Daytona's or-dinances, unlike past Fort Lauderdale ordinances, are specific about that. Small business firms are unhappy about them, as we all are, but we don't get very many complaints because most of the merchants know the court's decision as well as we do. More often than not, the homeless men themselves are victims. Donald, 59, sleeps on a bench in Stranahan Park with his worldy possessions beneath him in a crimson suitcase. One night some youths began kicking him, demanding his money. Donald spent several days in the hospital for cuts and bruises and lost his dentures because of the assault. "The only happy part of the story," Donald says, "was that I didn't have much on me." The woman is white. Her feet are black. Her name is Florice, this frail, anemic, 36-year-old woman with ground-in dirt that seems to have altered the color of her skin. She moans and curls up on a weathered bench in front of a convenience store. The paramedics and police try to decide what to do with Florice. "Come on, dear. We're going to give you a ride. You can't be sleeping On this bench," says Fort Lauderdale patrolman Robert Campbell. "You're not playing games, are you?"! challenges Florice. "Dp I look like I'm playing games?" responds Campbell. He piles Florice into the back of a patrol car and heads for th e Broward Alcoholism Rehabilitation Center. It's a nightly assignment. "Many of them just use the system. 'I'hey know they're going to get a free ride somewhere and they don't want to go to jail, so they say, 'Well can't you take me over to BAR??' " says Campbell. "I mean, they know the way. If you make a wrong turn they'll say, 'Hey, it's back over this way.' " Florice never entered BARC. Once there, she refused treatment and was released to an address listed as "at large." On one of his better days, George will tell you how he longs for the good old days when he used to get thrown in jail. That was back before 1977, when the city still had a Municipal Court, room in the jail and vagrancy laws in effect. Under the jail's trusty program, a bum ; i I J ' - t JI ff. ' k, J J , ' . r ' , M t . 'V' v v t a" ' " i I Policeman rouses bum from sleep in the bushes. proposed as enough to withstand the test of constitutionality. These ordinances bar sleeping on private and public property between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Critics, however, claim even the toughest vagrancy laws only relocate the problem 'to another street, another bench or another town. Dr. Roger Barker, director of treatment services at the Broward Alcoholism Rehabilitation Center, advocates a mandatory, court-supervised "domiciliary" program for bums with severe alcohol problems. Marie Reynolds, also of BARC, advocates a domiciliary program because it would provide long-term care for the homeless alcoholic, instead of having to house them in the shorter-term facilities at BARC. Oni type of domiciliary program has been in operation for four years in the Tampa area. The1 voluntary program is state-funded, with some of the clients paying 75 percent of whatever income they have, up to a maximum of $160 per month to attend the program. "It's not really treatment, it's rehabilitative," says Susan could be put to work cleaning floors, wiping windows and would dry out and earn a little cash. When he walked out the jail doors, he was at least temporarily a rejuvenated man. "Jail saved some of our lives,", says George. "If they'd let us stay out, some of us would have died. You can only go so long drinking this stuff." Since the law went light on George and the rest of the area's vagrants, his friends have been dropping like flies. "Out of the original 20 to 25 guys that hung out in Stranahan Park, only about five are left," George says. "The others either died or were murdered." Police Chief Callahan, too, misses the days when the jail had room for derelicts. "It was an effective program in that it did dry out the drunk and the city did get something out of it," he says. Now Callahan and other officials say the system tends to ignore the bums. "You have to yell at governing bodies," he says. "All law enforcement does is enforce the law. That's what we tell people. We can't do anything." It's late morning and Earl has just climbed off of a picnic table where he was sleeping. Six months of living in the park have left him scowling. "It's hard in the streets. A rich person wouldn't want to live out here," he says. "They'd get killed the first day. I'm not worried, though. I got my stick and my knife." Today Earl might hustle for a bottle to make a few cents. Maybe he'll offer to do a day's work for a day's pay. Twice a week he'll sell his blood plasma at $8 to $14 a pint. "I drink a lot, but I'm not an alcoholic," he says. Then, quickly changing the subject, he adds, "I got a son I don't even know." Earl thinks about the future sometimes. "I'd like to get a house and get married. If I can find someone to marry me. "In a way, though, I don't give a damn what happens to me. I'm just hoping . . . hoping everything will turn different. But there ain't nobody out here to help the bums." Earl looks around, then crawls under a bush next to a picnic pavilion. It is the fourth year he has been hoping for a break. He is 18 years old. SUff photo by LOU TOMAN 1 solution Graham, domiciliary supervisor of Hillsborough ' Alcohol Treatment Services. "This program was designed for the skid row population to show it was cheaper to keep these folks in a domiciliary rather than shuffling them through detox centers and jails." Results have been encouraging, she says. Domiciliary care costs about 14 per day per person compared with jail or detox center costs of about $40. Ms. Graham says her program goes beyond just getting vagrants off the bottle. The aim is to "re-socialize" them by getting them to bathe regularly and adopt other, more accepted forms of behavior. "In the strict sense of the word, we're not treatment, but a lot of guys come in and maintain sobriety for months or even years, and that's a minor miracle." Ms. Graham says the 100 beds at the domiciliary usually run at 90-95 percent occupancy, but it is difficult to tell if the center has made a dent in the population of skid-row inhabitants. "For every one I take off the streets, one more fills up the space. What I can say though, is that we've saved some lives." 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