- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Former sex offenders filed a lawsuit this week challenging a Miami housing restriction that’s threatening them with jail time after being forced to live in tents on the outskirts of the Everglades.

Former offenders in Miami-Dade County cannot live within 2,500 feet of a school, so they’ve set up an encampment under an overpass where they’ve lived for years. One of the plaintiffs sleeps in his car, while the others sleep in tents and sleeping bags.

The city, though, pushed their encampment further out — roughly one mile from public transportation, electricity, restrooms and running water.

Officials are now threatening to jail those who don’t leave the encampment area for other county housing options or shelters. Because plaintiffs are convicted sex offenders, they cannot reside in shelters and risk staying in the encampment, being jailed and violating their probation.

“If the hundreds of individuals are banished to the border of the Everglades, they will be forced to live out their lives on the literal margins of society without any cover from the elements,” said Valerie Jonas, a lawyer helping the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is representing the plaintiffs. “The county created this problem by restricting areas in which our clients can and cannot live, and the county can solve this problem now by repealing the residence restriction.”

The lawsuit claims the housing restriction is cruel and unusual punishment, and the plaintiffs are asking a state court for an injunction to halt enforcement of the ordinance.

The ACLU also filed a challenge last year to the county’s 2,500-foot rule. Sex offenders say most of the county’s housing is off-limits to them because of the rule, and even those who have jobs and could afford a place, or who could live with relatives, are forced into homelessness.

Their lawsuits come after federal courts across the country have been striking down various sex offender restrictions in states like Colorado and Michigan.

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