Working to Solve Homelessness in Central Florida
Over the past eighteen months, I have become increasingly involved in our region’s effort to reduce homelessness while also providing the necessary physical and mental care for those involved. I serve on the board of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, chair the Chronic Homelessness sub-committee, and serve on Project DTO (Downtown Orlando) which created a ten-year vision plan for downtown, part of which was how to address the needs of the most vulnerable among us.
First, some definitions:
to be considered “chronically homeless,” you must be either mentally or physically disabled, period. Thus, any comment such as “homeless people just need to get out and work” is one which displays ignorance. A chronically homeless person does not have the capacity to work. They are the most vulnerable among us because they lack the resources or ability to help themselves.
Family or Episodic Homelessness
this form of homelessness is when people find themselves suddenly out of job or they have a job, but it does not pay enough to provide housing AND food. Many wind up living in extended stay hotels, camps, or cars. Most of the time, these people are able to work, but lack of affordable housing, transportation, education, childcare and a host of other things make these impossible. Family homelessness is more complex, as the needs are more systemic.
when we say we are going to “end homelessness,” we do not mean that no one will ever be homeless again. What we mean is that such moments will be rare, brief, or one time.
Permanent Supportive Housing
this is the solution to homelessness that is impacting cities across the nation (Phoenix, Houston, Salt Lake City, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio). A homeless person is provided a home (normally a one-bedroom efficiency) and then surrounded with “support services” that will help them stay in that home successfully. Each will have a case manager (one case manager per twelve clients) who will connect them to the needed resources, including mental health resources. While initially counter-intuitive (giving a homeless person a home with no conditions on behavioral change), the data proves its effectiveness. It costs the taxpayer $30,000 per person if they live on the street, but only $10,000 per year if they are housing and provided services. And the recidivism rate is only 8%, far lower than the transitional housing model.
We are making GREAT progress.
With generous donations from Florida Hospital, the City of Orlando and Orange County, the Chronic Homelessness Committee has prepared, funded and begun implementation of a plan to house 240 homeless people by the end of 2015. We have engaged with the Veteran’s Administration to identify every homeless veteran in our region and house them by the end of the year. We are engaging the faith community to provide needed clothing and furniture to those entering homes. We are launching a program called Open Table, which allows a church to surround a family as they navigate their way out of homelessness. And, we are beginning to delve more deeply into how domestic violence and human trafficking are connected to homelessness.
In particular, the response to our Homeless Jesus sculpture has been tremendous. Most days, I see multiple people stop and look and linger. Many times, small trinkets and gifts are left which we collect and distribute to those organizations that can use them. Even better, we have had people come to our front desk and write checks in support of our Compassion Corner homeless ministry as a means of expressing their gratitude.
It has been an encouraging time for our community as we are finally making headway to serve so many in need. It would not have been possible without the partnerships between city/county government, the private sector, and the faith community. When those three come together, there is nothing that we cannot achieve. This is a prime example of what I mean when I say I want First Pres to be a “city-center” church. We partner with our community to identify needs and then we roll up our sleeves and figure out how to get it done!
Dr. David Swanson is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, and has seen the impact our church family can have on our community when we work together to serve the least among us.
If you’d like to help get an apartment move-in ready for someone (shopping, decorating and making it into a home), or you’d like to start building a relationship with a local homeless veteran as they transition into permanent housing, call Carol Hafer at 407.423.3441 x1460.
To learn more about the Chronic Homelessness plan, and how you can get involved, visit rethinkhomelessness.org.