MIAMI (AP) — On what is likely the last clear day in Florida before Hurricane Irma’s monster wind and rain, social workers and police officers are giving Miami’s estimated 1,100 homeless people a stark choice: Come willingly to a storm shelter, or be held against their will for a mental health evaluation.
With the outer edge of the storm approaching Friday, these officials — backed by a psychiatrist and observed by an Associated Press team — rolled through chillingly empty downtown streets as dawn broke over Biscayne Bay, searching for reluctant stragglers sleeping in waterfront parks.
“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,” said Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.
Invoking the “Baker Act” — a law that enables authorities to institutionalize patients who present a danger to themselves or others — is not something law enforcement does lightly, but officers detained at least six people by Friday afternoon. Under the law, they can be held up to 72 hours before the state would have to go to court to prolong their detention.
By then, Irma’s howling winds and terrifying storm surge should be somewhere north of the city.