MIAMI — The Homestead detention center for unaccompanied immigrant children is expected to begin accepting kids again as early as October or November, federal government sources say, even though it officially shut down less than two weeks ago.
Sources close to the operation told The Miami Herald the federal government is anticipating an influx of children at the border some time in October.
“Homestead is not closed. There will be kids back at the center, it’s just a matter of when,” one federal official who oversees the operation said, noting that administrators are contemplating whether it will ultimately wait until after hurricane season ends in late November if the expected migration influx happens.
On Aug. 3, the remaining few hundred children at the detention center were abruptly relocated. The overall evacuation happened over a period of four weeks after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it would no longer be sending children to Homestead. A tropical wave in the Atlantic Ocean was what ultimately triggered the final move of the children, following the facility’s hurricane plan.
The center’s child population was at 3,000 at its peak but had been rapidly declining as Florida’s hurricane season intensified. On its final day, it housed about 300 children.
HHS would not comment on when the shelter would be expecting children again. In early August, the agency did say it “plans to retain but reduce bed capacity at the Homestead facility from 2,700 beds to 1,200 beds for future access in the event of increased referrals or an emergency situation.”
“At this time, retaining bed capacity at the Homestead influx facility is necessary to provide care and services to (unaccompanied minors) as mandated. We anticipate an uptick in the number of referrals made to HHS this fall, based on historical trends,” HHS said it its statement.
When the closing of the center was announced, federal officials told the Herald it would keep around 130 employees on site to maintain the property even as the shelter remains closed. However, this week the Herald learned that those plans have changed and that more than 2,500 employees will keep their jobs, with another 1,700 losing their positions.
Rick Beasley, who heads CareerSource, an agency charged with helping people find employment, said it will be spearheading the effort, along with Caliburn, the company contracted to run the shelter, to help those who are losing their jobs.
“It is my understanding that they will be bringing the youths back,” Beasley said. “It’s not closed. It’s just being scaled down.”
Beasley noted that job fairs will be held in the coming days or weeks. Meanwhile thousands of employees are still reporting to work, even though there are no kids at the shelter. Youth care workers and staff say they are playing board games, sports and exercising to kill time.
Caliburn would not say why employees are still arriving to work and what their daily duties are.
Homestead was the largest for-profit, influx detention center for unaccompanied minor children in the country, with 3,200 beds at its peak. Because it’s deemed an “influx center,” it doesn’t require a state license.
Sources inside HHS told the Herald that Homestead hasn’t applied for a state license, a process that takes about six months to complete, because that would mean capping the population off at 500 children — the threshold for most permanent shelters — and that the agency needs the flexibility in case there is an emergency.
In the past year, the government has faced scathing criticism nationwide from local, state and federal lawmakers, as well as protesters and advocates, against child detention, specifically at unlicensed shelters, where the price tag is much bigger, and the length of stay tends to be much longer because of larger populations.
The ongoing rebuke and negative spotlight has caused companies and non-profits to steer away from accepting contracts to run such operations, federal sources say, making it more difficult to find operators willing to run permanent shelters.
In late July, HHS announced it was looking at Florida, California and Virginia to host permanent detention centers. A month before that, the agency said it would be looking at Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix.
Permanent facilities are more cost effective. On average, a temporary shelter costs the government about $775 a day per child, while a permanent shelter costs around $250 a day per child.
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Caliburn currently runs the Homestead center, as well as four others in Texas. According to federal records, the company’s contract expires on Nov. 30 — the last day of hurricane season. It is still unclear if it will be renewed or whether a new contract would be open to competitive bidding.
The company’s current contract was awarded without competition around the same time Trump’s former chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, joined the company’s board of advisers, sparking requests for investigations by members of Congress, senators and House oversight committees.
“It’s all spooky. There are thousands of employees there taking care of invisible kids,” said Joshua Rubin, a protester who helped lead a campaign called Shut Homestead Down. “This is all about inertia. If you keep the facility activated and in motion, even if there are no kids, the contract will be renewed, because it’s the easy thing to do.”
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