The sun has barely risen over Miami, and Dale Brown loads an orange shopping cart with everything he owns. Through the morning’s swampy heat, he pushes the cart to the edge of the railroad tracks, where he hauls the items one at a time into some overgrowth and covers them with branches. His tent from Wal-Mart, meticulously rolled and packed. A garbage bag with clothes and a blanket. He unscrews the lid to a plastic gallon jug and empties his urine into the brush.
“You feel like an animal,” says Brown, 63.
This industrial neighborhood just beyond Miami’s far western edge is home to lumber yards, auto parts warehouses, and, in recent months, roving encampments of homeless sex offenders. This summer, Brown and a half-dozen other men were living beside a chain-link fence outside a hardware company. Five blocks away, more lived in tents and makeshift shacks. And 12 blocks from there, about a dozen arrived in cars each night.
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A combination of federal, state and local laws has rendered almost all of Miami-Dade County off-limits to sex offenders with young victims. The feds say they’re not allowed in public housing. The state says they can’t live within 1,000 feet of a day care center, park, playground or school. The county says they can’t live within 2,500 feet of a school. In a place so densely populated, forbidden zones are everywhere. And in the narrow slivers of permitted space, affordable apartments with open-minded landlords are nearly impossible to come by.