Still there . . .
No, you think. That can't be. Not after two years. Makes no sense.
But they're still there, a bedraggled colony of outcasts, consigned to the bowels of the Julia Tuttle Causeway -- as a matter of public policy.
No, you think. That's impossible. Last winter, state officials promised they'd solve the legal conundrum and international embarrassment that forced 19 sex offenders to live like rats under the concrete support beams of a causeway bridge. The camp's still there. Only the Tuttle bridge population has since grown to 48 men, crammed together in a nether existence of the Kafka kind.
Officially, of course, the state of Florida would never compel ex-offenders to live in unsanitary conditions in the dank underbelly of a freeway bridge, in tents, shacks, cars and two rusting campers. Yet parole officers have made it clear to ex-sex offenders who've served their prison sentences that they have no other options.
City and county laws have created so many overlapping forbidden zones -- 2,000 or 2,500 feet from schools, day cares, parks, playgrounds, school bus stops -- that the middle of Biscayne Bay has become an ex-offender's only allowable address.
''They check us here every evening. We've got to be here or we go back to prison,'' said M.C., 48, who was banished to the bridge after his release from prison two years ago.
They live in unlivable conditions. No water. No toilet, other than a jerry-rigged privy M.C. built with scrap wood, a plastic bucket and a tattered sheet for privacy.
The parolees are required to live in a place without electricity and to keep their electronic tracking devices charged. Before they pooled their money to buy a $300 generator, that meant a miles-long walk to find a convenience store electrical outlet.
Bushes along the bay shore have been littered with trash and human feces. M.C. said, ''I begged them to give us a trash dumpster. We could keep this place clean.'' But a dumpster would be tantamount to an official admission that these ex-prisoners have become permanent inmates in another setting, condemned to finish out their lives under the Tuttle Causeway.
They can't have a dumpster, toilet or running water because the state clings to an official pretense that their camp is only a transient aberration, instead of a permanent menace to public health.
''It's horrible. It makes no sense,'' said Dr. Joe Greer, Miami's indefatigable public-health advocate. He visited the bridge settlement and was aghast at what Florida has created. ``Not only does that camp endanger the community, but it's inhumane.''
Greer talked of how men there, two of whom are in their 80s, are exposed to heat, cold, rain and mosquitoes, and have no fresh water or toilets, making them ripe for both communicable disease and psychological deterioration.
Perversely, Florida's ill-considered residency laws not only fomented this health hazard, they offer no real protection to children. Untethered to an actual home, ex-offenders become more difficult to supervise.
No one defends their unspeakable crimes. But residency laws that condemn them to live out the balance of their lives like bridge trolls aren't about protecting the public. As Greer said, this is really just revenge masquerading as public policy.
(Source : www.miamiherald.com)