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Dade County Officials OK Novel Tax to Shelter Miami Homeless

July 29, 1993| From Associated Press

MIAMI — A novel 1% restaurant tax aimed at providing shelter and rehabilitation to the homeless has been approved by Dade County commissioners, including one whose brother lives on the street.

The tax bucks a harsh nationwide trend and serves as a model for the country, national advocacy groups said Wednesday.

In an area where the homeless have been the subject of years of lawsuits and political fights, massive destruction by Hurricane Andrew helped create new sympathy for people without permanent shelter.

"With all the people who lost their housing and then had to face long lines to ask for money and help, many realized homelessness is not something people choose," said Emily John, operations director at the Camillus House shelter and a member of the 27-member board that will administer the new program.

The National League of Cities and homeless-rights groups said they believe the tax is the first in the nation passed specifically to help the homeless.

"I think it's an important avenue for cities struggling with the problem to consider," said Joan Alker of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

The Miami area has at least 6,000 people living on its streets, said Andy Menendez, county homeless programs coordinator. He has 200 people on a waiting list just for beds.

County Commissioner Alex Penelas, who termed the plan passed Tuesday "a ray of hope," chaired the committee that developed the tax program.

Penelas' 40-year-old mentally ill brother, Pedro Penelas, frequently flees home and lives on the streets, sometimes seeking aid in county service trailers.

The tax will be levied on meals and drinks at restaurants doing more than $400,000 annual business. It is expected to bring in $7.5 million a year.

Federal and foundation money should at least double that amount, and the Clinton Administration has shown interest in making Dade a pilot program, Menendez said.

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