Police Evict 75-Year-Old Florida Woman From Home as Hurricane Dorian Looms, Prompting Outrage and Policy Change

As South Florida prepared for Hurricane Dorian, one woman in Miami-Dade County was evicted from her apartment on Friday, leaving herself, her brother and her adult son shelterless.

According to the Miami New Times, 75-year-old Maris Cazañes, her 81-year-old brother and her adult son, whose age was not reported, were removed from their apartment in South Beach by the Miami-Dade Police Department. Cazañes has lived in the apartment for 28 years.

Witnesses to the eviction told the New Times that Cazañes asked to be given one more day at the residence, and then asked that she have time to gather her medication, paperwork, phone and other essentials like shoes, but the landlord and his associates reportedly ignored her requests and continued removing items and leaving them out on the street.

"She's a good lady. She never had a problem with anyone. And to take her out like that when a hurricane is coming? This is supposed to be a country of justice and compassion. Ay dios mio," a witness told the New Times.

Rafael Velasquez, an activist and candidate for Miami Beach City Commission, posted about Cazañes' situation on Facebook where the story quickly went viral.

Velasquez's post shows Cazañes on the porch of the home, with her belongings left on the street below. The post included a lengthy caption asking commenters for help. "Shameful. This is how some investor/landlords treat our Miami Beach senior citizens. I just received a call for help!" he wrote.

Some weren't surprised by the treatment. "Nobody cares about the elderly people. It is very sad. I am a senior living here in South Beach for 40 years," wrote Miriam Segal.

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

In response, neighbors came to help the family after officers from the Miami Beach Police Department arrived and called the Miami Beach Fire Department to unlock the door so Cazañes, her son and her brother could retrieve belongings. The New Times reported that several children assisted in removing numerous cats and three turtles the family kept as pets.

Velasquez later revealed Cazañes, her family and cats have found shelter for the upcoming hurricane. "Thank you neighbors! Everyone is taken care of including all the cats (10-15)! Maria, her brother, 81, and her son, all three found shelter with the Salvation Army, while the cats were taken into care," he wrote.

However, it appears the turtles have not found a temporary home, as comments on Velasquez's Facebook post asked citizens to help in taking care of them.

The Cazañes situation gained enough attention that Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez was questioned about it during a press conference about Hurricane Dorian on Sunday. Gimenez said that the eviction was a mistake.

"The Miami-Dade Police Department will not be evicting anybody during a time of emergency. We're going to be stopping that," Gimenez said, The Miami Herald reported.

Cazañes eviction on Friday came days before Hurricane Dorian is expected to make landfall in Florida. The storm, currently a Category 5 hurricane, could move up the East Coast and hit states as far north as Virginia. According to The Weather Channel, storm surge accompanying the hurricane could reach as high as 23 feet. Some counties in Florida have been issued mandatory evacuations, though Miami-Dade County is not among them.

Miami-Dade County police director Juan Perez confirmed to the Herald that there is no policy in place to prevent evictions when a hurricane is imminent. Some cities, including Chicago and New York City, have moratoriums that prevent landlords from evicting tenants in situations such as blizzards or periods of extreme heat or cold.

Perez did say that the police department usually holds off when hurricanes approach as officers are typically assigned to other duties. However, Perez told the Herald that the department will create a new policy that matches Gimenez's request that individuals not be evicted during an emergency.

Cazañes, who speaks only Spanish and cannot read English, said she was unaware her family was facing eviction. Speaking to the New Times, she said she was turned away when she tried to pay her rent on August 1. Later in the month, she was sent notices but did not understand what they meant since they were only in English.

According to the Herald, the landlord evicted Cazañes and her family due to filth in the apartment.

Hurricane Dorian
In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, now a Cat. 5 storm, tracks towards the Florida coast taken at 13:20Z September 1, 2019 in the Atlantic Ocean. A hurricane warning is in effect for much of the northwestern Bahamas as it gets hit with 175 mph winds. Getty/NOAA