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Homeless People Who Refuse Shelters May Be Baker Acted

Homeless people may be involuntarily hospitalized if they refuse to go to shelters.
David Adame
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Miami police intends to involuntarily commit homeless individuals starting Friday if they refuse to move off the streets. Volunteer outreach teams through the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust began placing individuals in shelters Tuesday morning and will continue those efforts through Thursday.

“By Friday morning it is my intention, those individuals who refuse to leave the streets for various reasons--almost all of which are mental health and or substance abuse-related--I would be moving to have those individuals Baker Acted,” said Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust.

The Baker Act is a Florida statute that allows individuals to be involuntarily institutionalized for evaluation if they have the possibility of a mental illness and are a potential harm to themselves or someone else. The law can be enacted by judges, law enforcement or mental health professionals, and the court will appoint an attorney to represent a person for whom involuntary placement is sought.

“I will not sit back as chairman of the Homeless Trust and allow people to kill themselves on our streets,” said Book. “We have plenty of advance warning and an individual who is unable to realize that we’ve got a category 3, 4, 5 storm coming in and they will otherwise be dead at the end of the story--they are a danger to themselves and that is the standard for Baker Acting an individual.”

“I am not going to be a party to individuals, in effect, signing a suicide note in our community,” said Book. “We consider them important and we are not going to sit by and allow them to harm themselves by not getting out of harm's way.”

As of 3:00 Wednesday, the Homeless Trust placed 146 people in shelters from the mainland parts of the county and 18 people were sheltered from Miami Beach.

According to the most recent Point In Time Count of homeless living on the streets in the county, Miami-Dade had 1,133 people living on the streets.

Update 12:08 p.m. Saturday: According to Book, six people were involuntarily committed for their safety on Friday. An additional dozen were in the process of being voluntarily committed but ultimately decided to voluntarily evacuate. The Homeless Trust volunteers have discontinued their efforts and Miami City Police are continuing to look in areas where homeless people gather, like Bayfront Park.

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Wilson Sayre was born and bred in Raleigh, N.C., home of the only real barbecue in the country (we're talking East here). She graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she studied Philosophy.