Video: Homeless band together in Miami

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/26/2007 7:44:20 PM ET 2007-01-27T00:44:20

In the shadows of gleaming million-dollar condos, some 5,000 homeless people live in Miami.

And since October, some live here homeless, but not without four walls.

"Here, versus sleeping up underneath a bridge, you don't have to worry about anybody stealing your stuff," says one resident.

They have built their own village — wood and cardboard and ingenuity.

"We are digging a well for our water," says another resident.

In the middle of the city, on a vacant lot.

"Over here we built a shower," the resident says. "This is cool."

It started as a few tents, then, a protest of not enough affordable housing. Now, 44 people live here, and there's a waiting list.

"People know you're homeless, they won't give you a place to live," says resident John Baker. "You're looking at somebody like, I got $600 in my hand, your monthly rent is only $450, and I just want to get out of the rain. It makes you mad on one level, but on the other level you're just like, all right."

Half the people here have full-time jobs. Still, finding a decent place to live is difficult.

"It's so expensive," says one woman. "That's the problem."

But as the village grew, the city tried to shut it down. Until Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who represents this area, paid a visit. She changed her mind, started trash collection, found some people jobs and found 13 people permanent housing.

"W have a three-bedroom unit that's boarded up. Why is it boarded up?" Spence-Jones asks. "Let's rehab it and get the family in there!"

Now the city is working on getting them a mailbox. But homeless advocate Max Rameau worries it's not enough. 

"There's way too much gentrification and not enough low-income housing," Rameau says — a housing crunch that many booming cities nationwide face.

Now, in Miami, Dennis Gilbert heads here after work, instead of to a bus bench.

"We need to help one another," he says.

They call it America's newest take on the urban shantytown, letting a little more light into the shadows of the American dream.

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