MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - A 75-year-old Miami woman was evicted from the apartment she’d lived in for 28 years Friday as Hurricane Dorian loomed, sparking outrage in her community as her neighbors scrambled to find a place for her, her 81-year-old brother and her disabled adult son to go.
Rafael A. Velasquez, a community activist and candidate for Miami Beach City Commission, posted to his Facebook page on Friday evening, alerting those in his network to Maria Cazanes’ situation, calling it “shameful.”
Velasquez said that Cazanes was being evicted allegedly for having cats in violation of her condo’s rules.“She is desperate and doesn’t know what to do,” Velasquez wrote.
In a later comment on his post, Velasquez explained that Cazanes’s landlord had allegedly refused her rent payment on Aug. 1 due to her cats and filed for eviction instead. Because Cazanes only speaks Spanish, she did not understand the writ of possession her landlord posted on her door on Aug. 30, Velasquez said.
A few hours after his initial post, Velasquez posted a video update alerting the community that Miami Beach Police had arrived on the scene and were attempting to help. He said that Cazanes and her brother and son had found shelter with a local Salvation Army.
Cazanes can be seen in the video sitting on the steps outside her apartment, and Velasquez explains that, though many of her belongings have been thrown into an alley outside, important items — like Cazanes’s medications and her cats — are still locked inside where no one can get to them.
According to a later post from Velasquez, MBPD opened the apartment later that evening to allow Cazanes to gather her clothes and medications.One of Cazanes’ neighbors, Diana Burnett, commented on Velasquez’s post, describing her elderly neighbor’s plight, “She's 75 years old has a mentally disabled son and her 81-year-old brother is coming from work now to help her. The police are here neighbors are here standing by to help but a lot of her stuff has been rained on and it's pretty ruined. She's picking out her most important things now.”
In the days that followed, Burnett helped Velasquez trap cats and remove them from inside Cazanes’s apartment, then networked to find fosters or homes for all of them. Velasquez continued to post updates on Maria’s situation to his Facebook page, including videos of trips to the Salvation Army where he spoke with Cazanes and her brother and son, who remained hopeful as their community continued to rally around them.
Burnett started a GoFundMe to begin collecting funds for Cazanes’ eventual moving costs.“After working to re-home the family pets, we need to address re-homing the people,” Burnett wrote on the GoFundMe page. “We are crowd-funding a security deposit and 1st month's rent for the family who are temporarily with the Salvation Army.”
On Sunday, Mayor Carlos Giménez of Miami-Dade County announced that Miami-Dade police will no longer be allowed to serve eviction papers during a storm emergency.
“The Miami-Dade Police Department will not be evicting anybody during a time of emergency. We’re going to be stopping that,” said Giménez during a press conference, the Miami Herald reported.
“Maria was overjoyed today to hear that Miami-Dade Mayor Giménez issued an executive order to stop ALL evictions during emergency declarations,” Velasquez wrote in an update Sunday afternoon. “Although, she is still gravely concerned about her cats, she understands that her life needs to change, and she is looking forward to a new start at a new home.”
Velasquez says that he is completely speechless over the response from the community and that Cazanes and her family remain hopeful as they begin a new chapter.