Homelessness in Miami: The real effects of Miami’s high living cost

‘Victoria’ is a 21-year-old woman who recently spent a year at the Lotus House Women’s Shelter after escaping an abusive family. For anonymity purposes, she requested to retract her name from the article.

“A month after I turned 18, I actually tried to leave, but my dad literally beat me,” Victoria reminisced. “He was like, ‘You’re not going anywhere.’”

For years, she experienced her parents’ torment, patiently waiting for an opportunity to leave all the while her freedoms were being controlled one by one.

“I was 19 and I wasn’t allowed to get my license or my ID,” Victoria said. “I wasn’t allowed to get a job, I was barely allowed to go out with my friends. My parents also wanted to still put their hands on me.”

Victoria’s friends were reluctant to intervene since the situation seemed like a family matter, but were there for her in support.

“Everytime I walked into that house, I felt like there was something wrong,” admitted Laura Rodriguez, one of Victoria’s best friends. “The verbal abuse didn’t stop even when there were guests.”

So, one day, while her parents weren’t home, she packed all of her stuff, called up a friend who had a car and left before her parents returned.

That wasn’t the last time she saw her parents that day, however.

After spending the entire afternoon with her two friends, she started to receive calls from her parents.

“My mom asked, ‘When are you coming home?’”

“I said, ‘Didn’t Dad say that if I was going to be disrespectful that I should get out of his house?’” Victoria countered.

Her mom didn’t like that response. She knew Victoria was at her friend’s house, so she decided to drive over to argue against her daughter’s sudden decision.

“We were literally fighting in front of my friend’s front yard,” Victoria said. “My friend was crying, my friend’s mom was crying. I was crying, my mom was crying. Everyone was crying. It was a whole thing.”

Rodriguez, who witnessed the entire argument from her front yard, was glad to see her friend standing up for herself, but was wary of the argument escalating into a fight.

“[Victoria’s] a very strong person,” said Rodriguez. “If she puts her mind to something, she’ll eventually end up making her goal.”

Her mom ultimately asked Victoria’s grandmother if she could stay with her, and her grandmother agreed. No one wanted to see Victoria sleeping on a bench or living on the streets.

But then Victoria’s grandma decided to kick her out of the house a few months later.

“I got kicked out of my grandmother’s house, and I literally had nowhere to go,” Victoria admits. “I was basically couch-surfing for two months; I was staying at hotels. I was working, but all of my money was going towards hotels just to be off the streets.”

While couch surfing, she called Miami-Dade’s 211 hotline for community needs and she was referred to a caseworker who assisted her until one of the shelters in Miami was available. After one month of being homeless, the caseworker told her there was space available in Lotus House. She rushed to her new temporary home before another person could take her spot.

In 2022, Miami was named one of the most expensive cities to live in the United States. This name was met with pride and excitement by many Miami residents, proclaiming their happiness with their city’s achievement. 

But this name painted a very different picture for the homeless community in Miami, which in recent years has begun to rise in numbers, and with Section 8 registrations being closed for the last two years, concern for the homeless population continues to be a pressing issue.

“I will consider moving out of Miami. I feel like that’s the best bet for low income people because living here is impossible to maintain,” said Antanisha Sawyer.

Sawyer is another young woman who stayed at Lotus Women’s Shelter. Her and her two children have moved out of the shelter a few months ago with housing assistance, but with no job and a time limit on finding a stable way to get funds, her situation is grim.

Miami-Dade County has seen a 4% increase in homelessness from 2022 to 2023, with a 13% increase in homeless individuals in shelters. Yet, local governments can’t seem to find a solution to the problem, and they are being guided down the wrong paths.

She recently received funding from Carrfour, a nonprofit organization aimed to help single homeless parents. Although Victoria does not have kids, the nonprofit still chose to help her, and she considered herself lucky to get assistance.

Victoria first received funding from a major housing provider, Citrus Health Network, but before she signed the papers, the program ran out of funding. Victoria knows that eventually, the Carrfour funding will transition into Section 8, so she’s happy with her outcome. 

“The thing about Carrfour that’s different from other housing programs is that it could lead to Section 8, so I’m not saying I’m going to get Section 8, but so far, everything has been kind of going a little smoothly, no one has told me otherwise,” Victoria said.

She currently pays $1700 a month for a one bedroom apartment in Cutler Bay.

As of November 2023, Carrfour pays her entire rent, but every month they contact Victoria for any updates regarding her salary. As the updates come in, Carrfour pays a smaller portion of the rent; 75%, 50%, and 25%, until the individual won’t need anymore assistance.

“Supposedly, every 3 months I’m supposed to be paying little by little, but they haven’t told me anything just yet,” Victoria said.

She reveals that funding is harder to conceive than one might think. Obtaining funding through applying at a government center or a public library is already difficult.

As life changing and helpful funding from organizations can be, it is often the only resource that many homeless people are left to resort to. Section 8 has been closed for applications over the last two years, the overwhelming amount of applicants has backlogged the application process. 

Stories like Victoria’s paint a clear picture of Miami today, while some get to enjoy the views from their penthouse suite, others are hoping they find a safe place to stay for the night. This too has changed over the years, as municipalities have adopted measures they believe will cut down homelessness. 

Recently, The City of Miami Beach adopted a ban on sleeping outside. The city relies on its shelters and resources and expects everyone to take advantage of them, so much so that they passed an ordinance allowing a police officer to arrest someone if they decline to be taken to a shelter. 

“When I first became homeless, I did not want to go to a shelter,” Victoria said, “I heard stories, and there is fighting and people steal, and believe it or not, it’s all true.”

Violence and danger within shelters is a common occurrence. The staff lack training and funding to be able to mitigate such situations. Communal spaces also cause disagreements between individuals and many times those in charge can’t enforce certain rules without concrete evidence.

“The thing about shelters too is that most of the time they don’t have space. It’s not that easy that I can just go to a shelter and sleep there,” Victoria acknowledged.

Many shelters are at capacity, and just like Section 8, many folks find themselves in a waitlist to be able to find a bed. Laws that restrict sleeping on the street creates a despairing situation for those who have nowhere to go.

Victoria’s concerns are valid, and many individuals who find themselves homeless choose not to go to shelters. Victoria recalls her time at the shelter in a positive light while recognizing the flaws.

“There would be a lot of fights, and [the staff] would just watch.”

These events are not all the fault of the shelter. Large cities like Miami lack the funding and training when hiring people to help out at homeless shelters. Like many other underfunded public services, the lack of funding causes disconnects between what people expect and what reality is.

“You have a place to go and you want them to treat you with respect and kindness, but a lot of them actually treat you like you’re disgusting,” Victoria said.

Victoria’s experience is one among many, but it encapsulates the tough choices and moments that people experiencing homelessness have to go through. Stories like Victoria’s help the citizens of Miami recognize that there is more to be done.

Jonathan Casaverde Maimon is a senior majoring in Digital Communications with a track in Digital Journalism as well as a minor in International Relations. When they graduate, they plan on obtaining a master’s in political communications and continuing to work in Washington DC.


Anna Trinidad is a junior majoring in digital journalism. In the future, she wishes to become an editor at a book publishing firm.