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Illegal Camping or Right to Exist? – Key West The Newspaper

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by Arnaud and Naja Girard

Rolling over while sleeping could seem innocent enough. But if you’ve laid down to sleep on a Key West sidewalk, what your hands, your face, your lips, would ultimately be rubbing against could be dirt and spit, vomit, urine, and whatever unknown plague and pestilence is crawling beneath you in the dirt.

No matter how disgusting, for Key West’s homeless people unable to sleep at the overnight shelter on Stock Island, these conditions are the only ones available to them under city laws.

In the video below 43-year-old Kara Cohen is being arrested. Her only crime is having placed a bedsheet between herself and the sidewalk. Judge Mark Wilson would later sentence her to 30 days in jail for “camping in public.”

A little background may be required before viewing the officers’ bodycam footage:

In 1988 Michael Pottinger and about 6000 of his homeless brethren, with the help of the ACLU, sued the City of Miami because of its treatment of homeless people.

A federal court ruled: “The City’s practice of arresting homeless individuals for harmless, involuntary conduct [such as sleeping and bathing] which they must perform in public is cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

At the time, the City of Key West interpreted that landmark ruling as requiring the construction of a homeless shelter as a condition to continued arrest of homeless people found sleeping in public areas. The City first allowed a “tent city” to go up along South Roosevelt Boulevard’s bridle path and later built the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) on Stock Island.

Here’s the question: When people cannot go to KOTS and must sleep in the streets, do we really want to force them to do so under the most unsanitary and dangerous conditions?

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