“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.
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.
Book’s group was working closely with police, who acknowledged that the effort is unusual: Officials said it is the first time Miami has invoked the law for hurricane preparedness.
About 70 people willingly climbed into white vans and police squad cars Friday, joining others who already arrived at shelters. About 600 others were thought to remain outside somewhere, exposed to the storm, despite mandatory evacuation orders for more than 660,000 people in areas that include downtown Miami and coastal areas throughout the county.
…the law requires a court order to keep them detained against their will after 72 hours, and public defenders have pushed back against such requests, citing court rulings that the Baker Act can lead to unconstitutional curtailments of individual liberty.
But those hearings won’t happen until Monday at least — and by then, Irma’s wrath will have moved on from Miami.
Ron Honberg, a senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said there is always potential for a slippery slope that would violate people’s civil rights, but this storm seems extraordinarily dangerous.
After driving more than 400 people to shelters, the Homeless Trust said it would continue searching for stragglers until winds reach 45 mph (72 kph), sometime Saturday afternoon.” (source)
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