Sheriff clearing homeless camps on island

By Steve Estes

Residents and business owners in the Lower Keys have noticed a marked difference in recent months in the distribution and number of homeless encampments scattered across Big Pine.

Since he took office after the 2014 general election, Sheriff Rick Ramsay has been on a mission to clean up areas of the Keys where trash and people have caused crime to congregate.

“It hasn’t been a deliberate targeting of homeless people, it’s been rather a general program to eliminate trash, graffiti and nuisance in the neighborhoods we patrol,” said Monroe County Public Information Specialist Deputy Becky Herrin.

The reason it may be more noticeable in recent months is that the department has accelerated these routine programs made them a more consistent part of the Sheriff’s community policing endeavors.

“We try and respond to all complaints from property owners, neighbors and business owners who believe they have a nuisance situation that we can deal with,” said Herrin.

She says that the Sheriff’s office has been targeting all areas graffiti and trash cause problems, some of those problems caused by homeless individuals who don’t show as much respect for our environment as maybe they should.

“It’s not OK to illegally camp on someone else’s property. It’s never OK to illegally dump your trash on another’s property. That’s how we approach the situation,” said Herrin.

While the primary goal is to clean the trash and remove any health issues that may exist and nuisance issues that may exist, Herrin said in most cases, deputies aid the homeless in clearing up the potential violations and ask them to move on.

“We do ask them to help clean up their mess, and most often they are agreeable and move on elsewhere,” she said.

Where they go usually isn’t the interest of the officer involved, she said. “But we have to move them from private property.”

Even though a lot of Big Pine Key is considered public lands, it is still owned by some agency, either federal, state or county, “and that makes the activity illegal if they’re dumping trash, human refuse or camping places they shouldn’t be,” said Herrin.

Even if the land is a public park, says Herrin, deputies can ask the homeless to move on.

The county has shelters for the homeless at KOTS next to the Stock Island jail and a private non-profit offers a homeless facility at Independence Cay in Marathon.

“We have places they can go,” she said.

If residents feel they have an immediate trash or nuisance issue, she suggests calling the MCSO dispatch or 911 in a real emergency.

“If its an ongoing neighborhood nuisance issue that you feel needs to be addressed, call the local substation, which for Big Pine and neighboring islands would the Cudjoe station, and ask to speak to the Captain or Lieutenant on duty. Together you can figure out what might need to be done to rectify the problem,” said Herrin.

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