Following an impassioned speech by Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon about Overtown being used as a dumping ground for facilities like Lotus House, city commissioners delayed the first reading vote on zoning changes the non-profit organization needs to move forward with its expansion plans.
Hardemon, whose district includes Overtown, insisted he wasn’t opposed to Lotus House’s mission of assisting homeless women and children.
The chairman claimed he simply wants Lotus House President and Executive Director Constance Collins and her team to meet with Overtown residents who complained that they have been shut out of the non-profit organization’s expansion plans. Hardemon said his request was no different from other zoning deferrals by the city commission, including ones for daycare centers.
“We know you want this now and at the next hearing you will want it then,” he said. “I am asking for you to meet with these people. All they want is an opportunity to be heard. All people are asking for is a little more time.”
Hardemon also chastised Collins for attempting to “burn a bridge” with him by making it appear that his push to delay the commission’s vote meant that more women and children living in the streets could become victims of terrible crimes.
Earlier during the hearing, while responding to a question by Hardemon about Lotus House’s community benefit, Collins said that the majority of Miami’s homeless population are women and children. “You don’t see them sleeping in tents because a woman who sleeps in a tent is going to be raped or assaulted or worse,” Collins said. “Our women and children are suffering poverty, abuse, and violence. Violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women.”
Collins also disputed claims that Lotus House did not reach out to its neighbors in Overtown. “We went out into the neighborhood with a petition because we felt it was important to talk to our neighbors and know how they felt,” she said. “Over 350 of our neighbors, property owners and businesses around us signed on the dotted line, ‘yes.’”
Ronald Book, a high-profile lobbyist who chairs the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, said Miami’s homeless population desperately needs the additional beds Lotus House’s new home would provide. “If I don’t find a place to take women and children off the streets in more aggressive and complete form and fashion,” Book said, “we will go backwards from where we are.”
In a previous interview with The Real Deal, Collins said that Lotus House will replace its five aging buildings with a new village that spans 120,000 square feet, accommodating 140 living units, a computer library; yoga, exercise and meditation room; an art and activities lab; a children’s wellness center; a trauma-focused daycare; full health clinic with women’s wellness and pediatrics; a dining pavilion; beauty salon; vegetable garden; teaching kitchen and more. The expansion will allow Lotus House to provide beds for 500 residents, a 50 percent increase over its current capacity.
To cover the $25 million cost, the Lotus Endowment Fund launched a five-year capital and long-term operations funding campaign. The non-profit has also secured $19 million in financing from US Trust/Bank of America, according to Collins. In addition, Miami developer Martin Margulies, Bilzin Sumberg, and Behar Font Architects are working with Lotus House on the new building.