Miami’s homeless to be committed if they won’t seek shelter from Irma

Miami’s homeless men and women who won’t seek shelter from Hurricane Irma will be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward ahead of the storm, the head of Miami-Dade’s public agency in charge of homeless services said Thursday.

Ron Book, a prominent lobbyist and chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, said that starting Friday, outreach teams will begin working with police to Baker Act anyone who refuses to get off the streets.

“It’s my experience that those individuals who have been unwilling to come off the streets, they all have mental health issues,” Book told the Miami Herald. “They are a danger to themselves … we will go in and have all of them Baker Acted.”

The Homeless Trust believes there are about 1,130 people who are homeless and living outside of shelters and housing units throughout the county. They’ve been working since Tuesday to get as many people as they can into homeless shelters, and had placed about 240 into shelters as of Thursday morning.

Outreach teams are now directing people off the streets and into general population shelters, Book said.

But there is a small group of people — maybe 10 or 20, Book said — who are refusing to seek shelter from the Category 5 storm, which could hit Miami sometime Saturday. Book says that’s likely due to mental illness or drug addiction. And under Florida’s “Baker Act” law, anyone who may have a mental illness and poses a danger to themselves can be involuntarily committed by police for up to 72 hours.

“No one’s ever tried this before,” Book said. “But I’m not going to be the mayor of Houston. I’m not going to tell people to take a Sharpie and write their names on their arm.”

Book said that with the storm slowing down, involuntary committals would start Friday in order to ensure that anyone committed would be inside for the duration of the storm. Anyone Baker Acted Friday would be committed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Crisis Stabilization Unit, a 20-bed facility located in the city’s health district.

In the meantime, the Homeless Trust is planning to evacuate the Chapman Partnership’s Homeless Assistance Center in Homestead and some of its housing units in South Dade, he said. Those evacuated people will likely end up in general population emergency shelters, Book said, along with homeless assistance workers.