According to The Associated Press, authorities in Florida have removed at least six homeless people from the streets against their will as Hurricane Irma approaches the state. Police officers are partnering with psychiatrists and social workers to remove homeless people from the streets of Miami, whether they want to go or not.
Police are using the Baker Act, a Florida law that allows police to institutionalize people believed to be dangers to themselves or others.
Ron Book, a Miami social worker, said:
“We’re going out and every single homeless person who is unwilling to come off the street, we are likely going to involuntarily Baker Act them. I am not going to sign suicide notes for people who are homeless in my community. I am just not going to do it. That’s why you have a Baker Act. It’s there to protect those who can’t otherwise protect themselves.”
In one instance, reporters watched as police officers handcuffed an elderly man who refused help from police and a psychiatrist who wanted him to go to a shelter.
“We are here to help you. Listen to me. You are being very aggressive. We are trying to help you,” one officer said, according to the report. “It’s very dangerous out here.”
“You are trying to make me go somewhere I don’t want to go,” the man insisted before he was handcuffed.
The Baker Act allows any officer with a reasonable suspicion of a suspect’s mental illness to detain that suspect for further evaluation if they are a danger to themselves or others.
“A person who has a history of mental illness and who is staying in harm’s way, and doesn’t have a logical cohesion of what is right or what is wrong at that point, is a harm to himself, and at that point we can Baker Act them for his own protection,” Dr. Mohammad Nisar said.
Book reported that his organization has already driven 400 members of Miami’s estimated 1,100 homeless citizens. Around 600 are estimated to still be on the streets amid a mandatory evacuation order.