(SS) The city's homeless and their belongings have been moved so they are less visible to visitors walking by downtown's Stranahan Park.
Police said they were responding to concerns of neighboring businesses and visitors disturbed by the gatherings and clutter on the sidewalk by the Broward Boulevard park.
"Definitely, it wasn't good for business when they were there," said Margarita Rivas, manager at The Salad Bowl restaurant across the street from park. "People don't like to see that."
The homeless and their bags —fixtures in the area for several years —were relocated Dec. 1 to a dirt and tree-covered area between the park and the Broward County Main Library.
The police department's Community Resource Unit brought in a few dozen wooden pallets so the homeless and their belongings would not have to be directly on the often muddy ground.
Police say the change was agreed to by the homeless, but some of those by the park said they weren't given an option.
"We don't belong in dirt like dogs," said Jamira Kennedy, 28, who has been staying at the park for about nine months and said she has been homeless most of her life.
Police Capt. Frank Sousa said the department's actions are a balancing act between meeting the rights of the homeless, keeping the sidewalk open and making it a hospitable area for people and businesses. Dozens of homeless stay by the park.
"They just cannot permanently set up their property on a sidewalk and believe they can keep it there for weeks on end," Sousa said. "When we go out there, we are there to offer services. We will encourage them to clean up."
The move was done in conjunction with Begin To Serve, a group that feeds the homeless.
"Instead of trying to pressure the homeless and move them away, I think a relocation was very reasonable," said Pastor Michael Jones of Begin To Serve.
Police put up notices that the belongings needed to be moved so the sidewalk outside the park could be washed down and cleaned, Jones said.
"The goal was to move them temporarily out of the way and then we discovered the side of the park would be an excellent option for them," Jones said.
John Bradham said the move is typical of the treatment he and other homeless usually receive.
"It seems like we're not a part of society. That's the way they treat us," said Bradham, 48, who said he has been living on the streets for about 15 years — the last three by the park.
But Bradham admits there seems to be less tension with the police.
"They're helping us now, since we're over here," Bradham said. "We're definitely not in nobody's way now."
Stranahan Park has been a magnet for the homeless for years. To discourage their presence, the Fort Lauderdale Woman's Club in 2012 turned the park into a botanical garden, filling it with shrubs and flowers that made it inhospitable to the homeless. A fence was also erected around the park.
But the move only pushed the homeless out of the park and onto the sidewalk, Rivas said.
Since the relocation, the sidewalk "looks much better, cleaner," Rivas said.
But, she added, "I don't know how long they're going to stay there."
While police will encourage the homeless to use the new area, Sousa said it has to be done willingly.
"We can't force them to leave. We can't force them to get help," Sousa said.