We can list the effects homelessness brings to the community, including: an illusion of disorder, fear of crime, increase calls for service from police, city response and issues of mental health and addiction. Government throws a lot of money and support at these things but unless we’re addressing the root causes and offering a complete solution, it will be of little use.
In 2012, I proposed the following suggestions on how to begin addressing the issue of homelessness locally in Orlando. Since then, I have spent months lobbying officials with the City of Orlando and Orange County (I even wrote an open letter to both Mayors and spoke directly about the issue with Mayor Jacobs in her office later).
Here are a few of my suggestions that I believe are still needed right now:
- Develop a task force set to go out and survey homeless residents and try to place them in programs that will help – taking resources to those in need on the street and identifying those who are chronically homeless and most at-risk to help as a priority. These programs are forward-thinking and rely on direct action and building relationships, trust and community to solve a very important social issue. This is critical before any real progress can be made because our community will neither understand the depth of the issue nor identify the proper types of services and resources needed without this crucial component.
- Convene a series of open working meetings for all major players AND members of the community as well as current homeless residents to attend at City Hall and the Orange County Administration Building with both Mayors. The Mayors and elected officials should also attend and actively participate in the task force efforts so they can truly understand the issue we face locally.
- Host a Community Night Out town hall on homelessness in Orlando, involving the entire community in the solution and raising awareness. This could also provide the perfect opportunity to connect, network and create real progress with a community scope. The Mayors and Commissioners could organize this as a stepping stone of launching the task force efforts as well.
- Invest in more drug and mental health rehabilitation centers, including as part of our public safety plan (read more about how I proposed this as part of my Heroes on the Street plan). The City of Orlando is cutting budgets and will likely be forced to do so in years ahead. The community needs to have a real commitment about long-term drug and mental health rehabilitation.
- Improve and strengthen our city’s educational opportunities for everyone in need. This includes having numerous information and resource centers available to all those in need, especially the homeless.
- Ensure Apprenticeship programs are the focus, especially with all major developments and Venues, so we are creating careers and not just temporary jobs. This is another important component to the educational and training opportunities.
- Set up business and citizen advisory council to address issues and solutions of homelessness on a regular basis, and open to the public with full transparency including monthly reporting obligations and reports directly to the Mayors and Commissioners. This should become a true forum for all ideas, thoughts, criticism and suggestions so our community can get a real grasp on the extent of the issue.
- Create more affordable housing FIRST as part of the solution instead of Dyer’s luxury Creative Village. This is a long-term issue facing our community and we have to plan to address the growing and changing demands, not simply continue to “push” the problems further out of sight in downtown. Orlando remains the lowest paying job market in America, yet our local leaders are only supporting and offering incentives for expensive and luxury housing options, while scrapping planned affordable housing projects.
Residents should also be reminded that previous efforts by local elected officials, including pledges to solve this issue, have resulted in a complete waste of funds and time. Five years after the Commission on Homelessness formed, three times as many people were without homes in central Florida. The Commission was under fire for quite some time and did not even meet in a six-month span in 2012 before then recommending the commission should just “cease to exist.” Mayor Buddy Dyer and Mayor Teresa Jacobs were co-chairs of the commission at the time too.
The Mayors are now touting a renewed push years later, including a $6 million pledge from Florida Hospital, which is a great start. However, the pledges of funding to address the issue only take our community so far. The pledges to “solve” the problem have been made before. But to offer real solutions, the community must first identify and know what we are really dealing with and who make up the homeless population throughout Orange County. How many are veterans? Or mentally ill? Maybe there are some who were just down on their luck and trying to turn things around. I don’t think the elected leadership in Orlando and Orange County know enough to offer the solutions that are needed.
We need real plans, real programs and a real focus on the entire issue. The community demands transparency and openness from our elected officials. And most of all, it is time for real leadership to institute the change that is need to truly help the homeless of Orlando.
I also led on this issue during his time as a Board Member for the Orange County Democratic Party. At the height of the arrests and pending lawsuits over feeding the homeless and needy in Orlando parks, I offered an official resolution calling on Mayor Dyer and the City Commissioners to stop the arrests and repeal the ordinance. The resolution was approved overwhelmingly by the local party in 2011 – against elected “Democrat” Dyer.
We can really start by finally ending the ridiculous ban on feeding the needy and homeless in Orlando. That would be a start. It should never be illegal to feed someone, but it is still illegal in Orlando.