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South Florida leaders seek solutions for the chronically homeless

By   /   January 6, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog

MIAMI — Hundreds of people living outdoors in South Florida may benefit from the new measures introduced by public and private sectors that hope to put an end to homelessness.

IN THEIR SHOES: Sleepers Monique Libier and Bouchra El Mansour participated in the Covenant House Florida’s “Sleep Out”.

On the eve of the holiday season, about 21 Broward County business owners participated in a sleepover in a Fort Lauderdale parking lot. The first of its kind to be held in South Florida, the program named “The Fort Lauderdale Sleep Out: Executive Edition,” organized by the nonprofit Covenant House sought to raise awareness and funds for the homeless cause.

The outdoor sleeping event aimed to demonstrate to the public just how awful it is to sleep under the stars, without shelter or protection from the elements.

Their sacrifice was rewarded. After having slept on hard pavement, under pounding rain, local leaders managed to raise $68,000 of their $100,000 goal, according to the nonprofit organization.

According to Covenant House, the program has been well received throughout the country and last year recruited around 687 business owners and executives, including the co-founder of Meatball Shop Restaurants in New York.

The funds that were raised are earmarked to educational activities, counseling, employment coaching and a youth hostel.

In September 2013, Miami considered changing its laws, allowing police to arrest homeless people that resist going off the streets and into shelters.

Miami filed a motion asking the federal courts to change a historic agreement known as The Pottinger Agreement — essentially a decree that protected the homeless from being arrested for sleeping in the street — which would have given the city the authority to arrest homeless individuals who refused to go to shelters after a certain number of warnings.

But Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union sprang to action and squashed the effort. In December, a judge put a two-year moratorium on the city’s plan, but this must still be approved by the Miami City Commission.

On other hand the Miami-Dade’s Homeless Trust, created in 1993 by the Board of County Commissioners to administer proceeds of the 1 percent food and beverage tax,  has re-prioritized its master plan to align local programs with  the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s priorities of ending the chronic homelessness by 2015.

To do that, the Trust is funding efforts like “100,000 homes” which focuses on the proven strategy of using programs like “Housing First,” a model that has been successful at quickly providing shelter and other assistance to the homeless.

“As fiduciaries of the public’s dollars, it is critical that  our Community Homeless Plan is in lock-step with USHUD’s own strategic plan,” said Homeless Trust Chairman, Ronald L. Book.  “We are confident that these new initiatives  build on the core elements of our Plan, created twenty years ago, and incorporate the research-based, results-driven strategies that will help us to meet our goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2015.”

The Homeless Trust, is gearing up for ‘Registry Week’ and seeking volunteer to support. During this week, the Trust will conduct vulnerability surveys of the street homeless, as well as conduct a census on unaccompanied youth, and a hud-required point-in-time census of the street homeless.

According to a count done by county authorities, 511 people live in the streets of Miami. 

Benjamin Waxman, attorney for the law firm Robbins, Tunkey, Ross, Amsel, Raben & Waxman P.A., and lead counsel in the Pottinger case said, “The amended agreement is something that Miami residents should be proud of. It prevents the return to the failed policy of criminalizing homelessness that leads to the widespread violation of the rights of these people without even solving the core problem.”

The Pottinger Agreement was won after a decade of fighting in federal courts. After various trials, appeals and mediation sessions, the courts ruled that throwing the homeless in jail was a violation of their constitutional rights.

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org twitter @mtoledoreporter

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Marianela formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.