by: Katherine Hardwick in Advocacy, Thought Leadership No Comments  

Downtown Vision, Inc.‘s executive director Terry Lorince submitted the following editorial to the Florida Times-Union in partnership with Shannon Nazworth, executive director, Ability Housing of Northeast Florida, Cindy Funkhouser, CEO, Sulzbacher Center, and  Dawn Gilman, executive director, Emergency Services & Homeless Coalition. This editorial appeared in the Florida Times-Union print edition on Saturday, March 22, 2014 and can also be read on Jacksonville.com. We welcome feedback to contact@downtownjacksonville.org.

As we talk about ways to revitalize downtown Jacksonville, the topic of homelessness always comes up.

HUD_VASH

It’s important to note that most homelessness is due to the lack of an affordable place to live.

Statistics show that if you give the homeless affordable places to live, they will not return to homelessness.

The most successful intervention is to provide short-term financial assistance so these individuals can get into a home. And to provide solutions — or “wraparound” services — so they can retain housing.

SURPRISING NUMBERS

You might be surprised to know this about homelessness in Jacksonville:

■ According to a recent survey by the Homeless Coalition of Northeast Florida, there are 400 chronically homeless individuals in downtown Jacksonville alone.

■ 25 percent of the local homeless population is not from Jacksonville. They ended up here because they were following a job, hoping to get a job or other circumstances.

■ Veterans account for approximately 25 percent of our homeless population. Many are struggling with PTSD and are shelter averse. That means they won’t live among a large population in a shelter with noise, chaos and crowds. These individuals are best served through individual housing programs.

■ The cost to arrest and jail a homeless person includes $884 for booking and $62 per day to house them.

■ The average cost of a single chronically homeless person is $50,000 per year. That includes jail time, emergency room visits, social services and other costs.

■ It costs between $12,000 and $24,000 to provide a permanent supportive housing solution for that same individual.

So by providing affordable housing, these programs can save the community up to $30,000 per individual housed.

100 Homes Jacksonville, administered by Ability Housing, has housed more than 500 individuals across the region since 2012.

A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT

It is a collaboration of multiple agencies, including the Veterans Administration, River Region, the Sulzbacher Center, Clara White Mission, the Jacksonville Housing Authority, Mental Health Resource Center and the Emergency Services & Homeless Coalition.

When launched, 100 Homes Jacksonville’s goal was to house 100 people in one year.

Today, the goal is to continue to house 30 individuals per month.

Homeward Bound is a partnership between the Sulzbacher Center and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office that seeks homeless people who’ve been on the street for less than six months and have no friends or family in Jacksonville.

The program tracks down relatives and friends in other cities and sends these individuals back home where they can seek permanent shelter.

The Sulzbacher Center and JSO have also partnered to launch the CHOP program to get chronic homeless offenders off the streets and out of jail.

This program is also a collaboration of the Sulzbacher Center, Public Defender’s Office, State Attorney’s Office, judges, the jail and Salvation Army probation program.

Downtown Jacksonville is making great strides in reducing homelessness. There is no single solution. It will continue to require many people collaborating and working together to solve this problem.

The authors are:
■ Terry Lorince, executive director, Downtown Vision Inc.
■ Shannon Nazworth, executive director, Ability Housing of Northeast Florida.
■ Cindy Funkhouser, CEO, Sulzbacher Center.
■ Dawn Gilman, executive director, Emergency Services & Homeless Coalition.

by: Admin in Advocacy No Comments  

This week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours riding with the Sulzbacher Center’s HOPE Team. Consisting of an outreach worker, a trained emergency medicine technician and a psychiatrist, the team seeks out those who are living on the streets and in the woods and builds relationships and trust with a population who have frequently lost trust and hope. The HOPE Team’s goal is to connect the chronically homeless with services that can enable them to become fully function members of society again.

While many people think of the homeless population as the folks you see hanging out all day in urban parks or wandering aimlessly Downtown, the truth is that this small population does not even scratch the surface. According to the outreach worker, “Every day you meet somebody new.”

Homeless Camp Site

We found people camped in the woods near a creek—an unexpected bucolic setting near Downtown—who despite living without running water, electricity, or a solid roof, did not consider themselves to be homeless. We met Mel, a friendly veteran who has been living in the same wooded area for more than 17 years. He described the serenity of the woods and the joy he experienced watching the sun rise through the trees. He said he had done “the homeless thing,” staying in shelters, and he was pretty happy where he was.

We also met Marcea, an older woman who lived on the streets in the Southside of town. For the past 13 years, rather than living in the woods hidden from view, she’s lived on the streets with her belongings in shopping carts. She is frequently moved by the police and was described as being very resistant to seeking services. Nonetheless, the HOPE Team continues to visit her, ensuring that she has a meal and knows that someone cares. Their hope is that someday Marcea will change her mind and come in off the streets.

Homeless Camp Site

What does this mean for Downtown and Hemming Plaza in particular? The HOPE Team believes that a very small percentage of the folks you see hanging out in Hemming Plaza are actually homeless; rather, they have homes, but lack structure in their lives. Additionally, a significant proportion of the chronically homeless have mental health and/or substance abuse issues, even though they may not meet the criteria for involuntary commitment, or being “Baker Acted.”

There is a need for outreach to ensure that people can be connected to mental health and other services; however, it was pointed out that Florida ranks 49th in the amount of per capita funding for mental health services. There is no straightforward or easy solution for eliminating homelessness because there is no single cause of homelessness.

In the meantime, we have caring and persistent folks like those on the HOPE Team who keep up with the chronically homeless, build trust and provide basic needs in an effort to ultimately get people off the streets and out of the woods and back to being contributing members of society.

If you know someone who is living on the street and needs help immediately please call the HOPE team at (904) 568-8343.