A Migrant-Teen Shelter Accused of 'Prison-Like' Conditions Is Shutting Down

Minors held there said staff regularly gave them pills to treat physical and psychological problems without telling them what the medication was for

by Gaby Del Valle
Oct 28 2019, 10:50pm

The Trump administration is finally shuttering a controversial South Florida shelter for migrant teens that's been compared to a prison.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees more than 600 shelters for migrant kids across the country, said it's ending its contract with the for-profit company that runs Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, for financial reasons.

In an email sent to Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and obtained by the Miami Herald, DHS said it wouldn’t renew with Caliburn International after its contact expires Nov. 30. The shelter will be put in “warm status,” meaning the department can decide to reopen the facility later on if needed.

“In our ongoing efforts to ensure fiscal prudence, following a sustained decrease in referrals, HHS operations at the Homestead Temporary Influx facility will be transitioned into warm status effective immediately,” the email read.

Unlike most other shelters for migrant children, which are run by nonprofit organizations, Homestead is owned and operated by the for-profit Caliburn. The temporary "influx shelter" cost roughly $750 per night per child to run, three times the cost of permanent, licensed shelters.

The closing process actually started some months ago. Homestead stopped taking in new children in July and stopped holding unaccompanied minors altogether in August.

After HHS stopped sending migrant teenagers to Homestead in July, administration officials said the demand for beds at the shelter had declined. But the government kept the facility semi-operational in case they decided to start using it again. The empty shelter was costing an estimated $720,000 a day to run, Jonathan Hayes, the acting director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in a September House hearing.

First used near the end of the Obama administration, Homestead reopened in early 2018 and had a reported capacity of 2,350. When the facility was fully open, advocates said it operated more like a prison than a shelter for unaccompanied teenagers, with allegations of neglect and mistreatment. Several minors who were held there said staff regularly gave them pills to treat physical and psychological problems without telling them what the medication was for, according to a May motion filed by the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law. Other children said the facility had unnecessarily harsh rules, like a five-minute cap on showers and 10-minute limits on phone calls.

The motion alleged that the conditions at the shelter were “prison-like.”

Several children had been detained at Homestead for months — and six had been there for over a year, according to the motion.

After touring the shelter in July, Pennsylvania Rep. Madeleine Dean told VICE News she was concerned by how long the shelter took to reunite the migrant teenagers held there with their families.

“Remember, this is for-profit,” Dean said of Homestead. “They should be moving [the children] out as quickly as possible, and I know there are people there who want to do that, but there’s a perverse profit motive.”

Cover: Children line up to enter a tent at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Migrant Kids