Miami News

Squatters ride waves of desperation in Florida's abandoned boat dwellings

Cost of living spikes drives squatters to seek refuge in derelict vessels along Florida's coast, posing challenges for law enforcement

In a bizarre twist of housing struggles, squatters in Florida are trading traditional homes for a life at sea, turning abandoned boats into makeshift residences. Law enforcement authorities in Martin County are grappling with the rising trend, citing the increasing cost of living as the driving force behind this unconventional housing choice.

Riding the waves of desperation

As the cost of living soars, Florida's coastal areas witness an alarming surge in squatters taking shelter on derelict boats. Martin County Sheriff's Office reports a notable uptick, leading to safety hazards, environmental concerns, and unexpected consequences for local businesses.

Lt. Michael Dougherty of the Martin County Sheriff's Office reveals the challenges faced by law enforcement as abandoned boats become a haven for the homeless. Derelict boats, defined by at least two violations, are now magnets for those seeking refuge. To address the issue, county commissioners have empowered authorities to tag and, if necessary, dispose of these boats after 21 days, incurring significant costs for taxpayers.

The impacts extend beyond the realm of law enforcement, affecting businesses that rely on showcasing Florida's pristine waters to tourists. Business owners like Giles Murphy of Stuart Angler Bait & Tackle express concerns about the negative visual impact on the region, especially during peak tourist seasons. The boats also hinder the allure of Florida's waters for anglers and vacationers alike.

A marina filled with boats in front of a city skyline, showcases the vibrant waterfront and urban landscape

From boats to islands: Squatters' unconventional havens

Beyond the coastal challenges, Florida faces squatter issues across its landscape. From "Meth Island" near the Dunlawton Bridge, where squatters erected wooden structures complete with booby traps, to Winter Park's nightmare situation and even an alleged squatter turning a Fort Myers residence into a personal haven with a PlayStation console – the state grapples with housing dilemmas on various fronts.

In Winter Park, residents face an ongoing nightmare as squatters evade eviction due to perceived limitations on law enforcement. Meanwhile, an alleged squatter in Fort Myers went so far as to set up a PlayStation console and take the homeowner's car, underlining the audacity and creativity of those facing housing insecurity.

While Martin County tackles boat squatters, other areas in Florida witness squatters making homes in abandoned buildings, creating unique challenges for local authorities. "Meth Island," located near the Dunlawton Bridge, became a makeshift settlement with elaborate structures, revealing the complexity of the squatter phenomenon.

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