The fierce debate over Miami’s sleeping-mat program for the homeless turned personal on Friday, as Miami-Dade Homeless Trust chairman Ron Book lashed out at city leaders — singling out one commissioner in particular.
Book took aim at Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who spearheaded the mat program. The two men have feuded over whether the county homeless agency should help fund 115 outdoor mats, which are part of a covered pavilion at the Camillus House shelter. Sarnoff says it’s only right that the county chip in; Book says outdoor mats encourage the homeless to stay on the street rather than seek social services, and his agency won’t fund something that’s counterproductive.
The mat program, started last year, runs out of money on Aug. 1.
On Friday, Book said Sarnoff has jumped into the homelessness issue without truly understanding it. And the city of Miami, he said, can’t be trusted.
“They’re never OK, they’re never satisfied, because Marc Sarnoff wants to be nothing but right, and he’s wrong about this, he’s wrong about it,” said Book, who in addition to leading the Homeless Trust is also one of Florida’s most powerful lobbyists.
Book’s angry comments, with his arm repeatedly banging on the table, came during a sit-down meeting with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The meeting, which was open to the public, was an attempt by Gimenez to broker a deal on the outdoor mat issue.
As Book ripped into Sarnoff — who wasn’t in attendance — Gimenez tried to calm him.
“He thinks he’s right, you think you’re right,” the mayor said.
“He’s no expert!” responded Book, his voice raised. “He parachutes in, he hasn’t done any research, he hasn’t gone to conferences, he doesn’t care, ’cause he wants to be right. ... His behavior is despicable.”