Authorities in Miami, Florida may begin invoking a law to institutionalize patients, as they try to clear the homeless residents out of the city to save their lives. As Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction nears land, social workers and police officers are working to get Miami’s estimated 1,100 homeless people to safety, and many aren’t willing to take shelter.
Homeless residents unwilling to accompany authorities to storm shelters may be subject to the “Baker Act” — a law that lets authorities institutionalize patients who present a danger to themselves or others.
“We’re going out and every single homeless person who is unwilling to come off the street, we are likely going to involuntarily Baker Act them,” Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, said, adding, “Anybody who stays on the streets is going to die. They’re going to die.”
“I am not going to sign suicide notes for people who are homeless in my community. I am just not going to do it,” Book said of the evacuated homeless residents. “That’s why you have a Baker Act. It’s there to protect those who can’t otherwise protect themselves.”
Invoking the act is not an option police officers often take, and officials have admitted this is the first time Miami has invoked the law due to a hurricane. But with the storm’s arrival certain, they have proceeded with the action as necessary.
An exclusive AP report shares the following details:
“With the outer edge of the storm approaching Friday, these officials — backed by a psychiatrist and observed by an Associated Press team — rolled through chillingly empty downtown streets as dawn broke over Biscayne Bay, searching for reluctant stragglers sleeping in waterfront parks.”
One older man pushing his belongings in an empty wheelchair in Bayfront Park tried to wave them off.
“I don’t want nothing,” he said, insulting a social worker.
“So you are cool with dying in the streets?” he asked.
“Get out of my goddamn face,” he responded.
“What’s your name?” asked Dr. Mohammad Nisar, a psychiatrist who was looking for evidence of mental illness, a necessary factor for a Baker Act detention.
“None of your damn business!”
Police officer James Bernat intervened.
“We are here to help you. Listen to me. You are being very aggressive. We are trying to help you,” Bernat said. “It’s very dangerous out here.”
“You are trying to make me go somewhere I don’t want to go,” he insisted.
Finally, the man was handcuffed without a struggle and taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital for a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation.
The group has already reportedly detained six people as of Friday afternoon, while approximately 70 others went to shelters willingly, joining those who had already arrived.
Officials estimate that around 600 others remain exposed to the storm somewhere outdoors, despite mandatory evacuation orders for the downtown Miami and coastal areas throughout the county. The individuals detained under the Baker Act can be held, by law, for up to 72 hours for a mental health evaluation, but by then, Irma will have moved on from Miami.
According to the AP, Dr. Mohammad Nisar said members of the round-up team already know the men the detained, and can testify to prior signs of mental illness to support each case.
“A person who has a history of mental illness and who is staying in harm’s way, and doesn’t have a logical cohesion of what is right or what is wrong at that point, is a harm to himself, and at that point we can Baker Act them for his own protection,” Nisar explained.
Ron Honberg, a senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, warns that there is potential for such detentions to violate an individual’s civil rights, however he admitted that Irma is extremely dangerous.
“I think sometimes situations arise that are so dire that safety consideration supersedes everything else,” he said. “But you don’t want this to be used on people who don’t have a mental illness.”
The Homeless Trust said it would continue its search for “stragglers” until winds reach 45 mph (72 kph).
Meanwhile, other Florida residents are eagerly evacuating the state.
Images caught on flightradar24.com at around 1pm ET showed hundreds, if not thousands, of flights deserting the state.
A tweet that links to those images follows, while the picture below is screenshot from flightradar24.com at 4:30 pm EST.
Captivating image shows hundreds of flights fleeing Florida as Hurricane Irma barrels towards US mainland https://t.co/jQXz6DHOiZ
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) September 8, 2017
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