Miami Skirmishes Over Homeless Sex Offenders Who Claim Vacant Lot as Home

Department of Corrections allows sex offenders to claim a street corner as home.

April 17, 2012— -- The city of Miami has rezoned a vacant lot occupied by homeless sex offenders to make it a park in order to stop the state from directing more homeless sex offenders to the corner.

The city also intends to sue the Florida Department of Corrections to remove the 23 homeless sex offenders from the lot because they are going to build a fire station nearby.

The skirmish between the city of Miami and Florida's DOC over the northeast corner of 79th Street and 10th Avenue is the latest round in a running battle over the placement of sex offenders.

"The state is actually giving them pieces of paper telling them to go there," City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff told ABC News. "They are still on probation and parole, and many of them still have ankle detectors. The state is monitoring that they are there between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m."

Registered sex offenders are barred by law from living within 2,500 feet of a school or playground, including parks where children may play. By designating the corner a park, no new offenders are able to claim the corner as their home, but those already there are grandfathered in.

Currently, there are 23 offenders listed as "transient" residents of the street corner, many sleeping in tents, Sarnoff said.

The city commissioner said this isn't the first time the state has tried to place them in a public location.

"Two years earlier the state was placing them under the Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge, about three-quarters of a mile south of where they are now," Sarnoff said. "We filed suit, and they did stop."

Now, the city attorney is working to amend the results of that law suit, preventing registered offenders from listing a public street or sidewalk as their residence in the Florida sexual offenders and predators registry.

"We would like to see a major change in the state law," Sarnoff said, "a change that would make the sex offender the zone instead of the place. Make it so he must stay away from the children, he must stay away from the school, so that when he walks he is the bubble. Then, he can live in his own home as long as there are no children there."

In the meantime, the latest fight over the street corner goes on.

On March 1, the city sent the DOC a letter asking for the homeless offenders to be removed from the corner and informing the office that the city plans to build a fire station adjacent to the location. In Florida, fire stations serve as safe houses for runaway and abused children, a place for them to go to receive help. The letter sites the proximity to the transient camp as "detrimental to children in need in our community."

Phone calls the Florida State Department of Corrections for comment were not returned.