Miami homeless grabbed off the streets

With the deadline of evacuating Florida before Hurricane Irma shrouded it, police and social workers scouted the Miami streets to pick up any of its estimated 1,100 homeless people to take to a storm shelter or threaten them with forceful detainment for a mental health evaluation. The team of Associated Press along with officials and a psychiatrist also followed them. Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust stated that they were going to involuntarily 'Baker Act' all those who were desisting moving to shelter refuge. An established Florida Mental Health Act since 1971, officials can institutionalize patients for 72 hours under this Baker Act if they are deemed as a danger to themselves or others. A court order is required for detention beyond 72 hours. The law draws its name from Maxine Baker, a former state representative who did commendable work on mental health issues.

By late Friday afternoon, six people had been detained under this law which has been used for the first time during a hurricane threat. Officer Book stated that the law was preferable to the risk of deaths on the streets. It is a better alternative to signing suicide notes and must be used to protect those who cannot do so independently. 70 people were convinced to move to shelters voluntarily. With an estimated 5.6 million people evacuated, over 600 are still deemed to remain outside. Ron Honberg, a senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness admitted to the possibility of the Baker Act being used to violate people's civil right but he felt the dire situation due to storm justified its invocation.

However, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida was against this manipulation of mental health laws and felt people should be encouraged and persuaded to take shelter during a disaster. Howard Simon stated that in a democracy, people should not be forced to seek shelter against their wish. He felt the manipulation of the law to declare people resisting shelter refuge as mentally ill was wrong. Nevertheless, for estranged Homeless Trust pledged to keep searching for stranded people till the storm reaches a speed of 45 mph, possibly by Saturday afternoon. Till now, they have moved over 400 people to shelters. Despite being personally unhappy about doing it, Steven Nolan stated that he would do it as the shelter is a better place to be in when the storm hits.

September 23, 2017 - 17:38
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