Politics & Government

Having zero kids at Homestead has cost $33 million so far — that number will rise

The government has spent more than $33 million in 46 days to keep the Homestead detention center up and running even though no children are housed there, according to federal officials.

On Wednesday, Jonathan Hayes, the acting director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement — the agency in charge of housing unaccompanied migrant children — testified at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, along with other Department of Homeland Security leaders, about mental health services for migrant children.

In an exchange with U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, Hayes clarified that Homestead — which officially closed down Aug. 3 — is costing taxpayers $720,000 a day. That’s $600 a day for each of 1,200 empty beds. When kids are present at the facility, the cost is $750 a day per child.

Pocan: “$600 a day for 1,200 invisible, imaginary, nonexistent human beings at Homestead right now every single day...”

Hayes: “It’s the beds, but yes, sir, to keep them there.”

Hayes continued to address the committee, which was chaired by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut. Ann Maxwell, the assistant inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, also testified, along with Jonathan White, incident commander for the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“One thing you and I can agree on is this is an expensive program to operate,” Hayes said. “I will state if we remove the staff at Homestead, what I was told by my planning and logistics team, you’re looking at a minimum of 90 to 120 days in order to reactivate the staff back for that. And again, given the extreme uncertainty of referrals coming across our nation’s southern border, and how many kids we might have to care for, that wasn’t a switch that was turned off at this point.”

Since Homestead’s closing on Aug. 3, at least $33,120,000 has been paid to Caliburn, the company contracted by the government to run Homestead.

Two weeks after its shutdown, the Miami Herald reported that the detention center is expected to begin accepting kids again as early as October or November. Sources close to the operation told the Herald that the federal government is anticipating an influx of children at the border some time in October.

On the last day of Homestead’s operation, the remaining few hundred children at the facility were abruptly relocated. The overall evacuation happened over a period of four weeks, after HHS 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.

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.”

Though thousands of Caliburn employees lost their jobs after the shutdown, at least 1,000 are still showing up to work.

“We play board games, cards, watch movies and sometimes play sports,” one worker told the Herald Wednesday. “We’re just waiting to see when the kids come back. ‘Til then, we chill.”

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.
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