By Alex Pickett . . . An attorney for two Florida sex offenders asked an 11th Circuit panel Tuesday to reinstate a lawsuit challenging residency restrictions in Miami-Dade County that effectively rendered them homeless.
The unnamed offenders, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit in 2014 against Miami-Dade County, claiming an ordinance that prevented certain sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school left them without anywhere to live.
“They were forced into homelessness,” Daniel Tilley with the ACLU of Florida told a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based appeals court Tuesday.
The Lauren Book Child Safety Ordinance bans adults convicted of certain sex crimes against children under the age of 16 from living within 2,500 feet of a Miami-Dade County school. It is named after Florida State Senator Lauren Book, who was sexually abused as a child by her nanny. Florida law only requires a 1,000-foot buffer.
With Miami-Dade County’s high density and lack of affordable housing, the restrictions force sex offenders to live under bridges and along railroad tracks, according to the amended complaint. The ACLU argues this punishes the plaintiffs after their original convictions and violates the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws, which increase punishment for crimes already committed.
The ordinance received national attention in 2007 after the Miami New Times reported a cluster of 100 homeless registered sex offenders were living under a bridge – one of the only places in the county they could live without violating the ordinance.
Since then, the offenders have moved to various encampments around the county, which are routinely broken up by police and county health officials.
A 2018 report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found 447 homeless sex offenders living in Miami-Dade County.
In 2018, U.S. District Judge Paul Huck upheld the ordinance, spurring the appeal to the 11th Circuit.