The problem of vagrants accosting Carnival Center attendees is evidently bad enough that Performing Arts Center Trust Chairman Parker Thomson recently wrote a letter of complaint to Miami city leaders. The letter sparked controversy at City Hall, although Thomson said he was just passing along gripes from patrons, according to the paper.
"I'm not the person that's bothered, I'm six-feet-one, I weigh 190 pounds, they don't come up to me. And if they do, that's fine by me," the Herald quoted Thomson saying of panhandlers.
Two Miami city commissioners called the tone of Thomson's letter "offensive," but Marc Sarnoff, another city commissioner whose district includes the arts center, vowed a police crackdown on panhandlers.
City Commissioner Tomšs Regalado criticized the arts center for coming across as elitist. "It seems that the Performing Arts Center is only for the beautiful people," he told the Herald. "It would be nonsense to use the police to arrest panhandlers when we have murders of children every day in the city."
The issue arises in part from of the lack of parking facilities at the Carnival Center, which forces some patrons to trek through what the paper calls "occasionally gritty" streets. Downtown Miami, it adds, has long been notable for its enormous wealth and noticeable poverty, although the countywide homeless census recorded the lowest number of street dwellers (1,380) in a decade.
Miami leaders have reportedly not decided what (if any) action to take regarding panhandlers. The city was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union in the late 1990s after homeless people were allegedly harassed by police; the city lost the case and Miami police are now banned from arresting homeless people sleeping or eating on public property.