March was the month for Affordable Housing. I already shared Greg Shinn's very interesting presentation on the Tulsa model of “Scatter Housing,” which I liked. This was followed by another “Community Leadership Dialogue” hosted by Salvation Army, Dr. Brain and the New College Students. The Next day, also, there was another large meeting of the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network (CFBHN) hosted by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness. I found hope in all three for developing openness to my specialty, filling in the missing pieces and integrating with so many good and caring ideas that need to be activated.
I would like to address the conversation that went on March 11, at the Community Leadership Dialogue adding some hopeful notes, revealed the next day, on what agencies throughout Central Florida are doing now, and proposing for the future. Then, in my next post, I would like to share the Bay to Bay Services view of “Humane Housing,” that I believe fills in the missing pieces and integrates all those given from the sources named above.
All three meetings opened up with statistics of how communities are realizing, nationwide, that the public financial costs of serving the street homeless, especially in emergency health services and incarceration is well beyond the cost of housing the same population. This has become the new “ justification/inspiration” for communities, nationwide, to start...
Renovating housing in existing communities has been controversial, because nobody wants their neighborhood “blighted” by the influx of homeless occupants, or shelters. The Tulsa model presents mixed income housing as a solution, even documenting resultant lower crime rates. Tiny Houses have become vogue, simply because they cost so much less to build, and can, therefore be provided at a lower rent, sometimes without electricity, as subsidized, or even free housing to the homeless. All have greatly reduced the chronic, street homeless population, simply by definition, because they are housed. What they don’t do, often, is significantly improve quality of life, other than tending to raise hopes, to be crushed later, for “ bigger and better” homes as they, hopefully, improve their income. Sarasota is experiencing a much faster rate of housing cost escalation compared to the small increase in wages, thus resulting in a growing gap of affordability. Only 39% of Sarasotans have access to housing that does not consume their incomes, sometimes by as much as 80%.
The questions presented by the students for the “World Cafe” conversation raised more questions than they answered. The discussion of how quality of life would be apparent as an outcome of successful affordable housing, was agonizing. The first question that was raised in our group was “affordable to who, the individual or the community ?” We concluded they were one and the same: the individual IS a part of the community. The numbers showed providing housing to the homeless was more affordable to the city, than providing emergency services to, and incarceration of, the street homeless. But, then the “our neighborhood” question arose about lowering property value of neighbors, etc. Also, without a means to earn that home, the individuals accepting the homes are still in the demeaning role of being the parasites of the community. The failed experiment of public housing projects was cited as the ultimate end to these cost free models, as well. It was brought up that as the chronic homeless see people progressing into homes and presume that as increase in job opportunities, incomes as well as size and quality of homes materialize, they will be inspired to do likewise. One problem with that is that no one has addressed where all these “good jobs” and incomes would coming from, and even the minimum wage jobs that are found, offer few opportunities for advancement, so they are still stuck as only “marginally housed,” which crushes the initial hopes of economically linked quality of life. The simple answer to this question would be, you would see more smiles on faces, more purposeful strides and less dependence on drugs (incl. alcohol) for escape, and less crime to get “things” or drugs that give the illusion of purposefulness and dignity. But housing, alone, cannot achieve this.
As to the question of how the community, at large, could foster a sense of common interest among it's different segments, there was a lively discussion. There was a discussion on the difference between two religion’s definitions of charity: One meant “giving,” the other meant “justice.” The consensus was that to be a real benefit, charity, had to insure justice in the availability of the same basic quality of life standards for all, and support human dignity by being earned to the best of one’s ability. There was also agreement that all segments of the community: business owners, residents, faith groups, activists, and stake holders as well as the homeless, have to become informed of and engage with one another, putting faces to and creating a greater empathy with each. At these gatherings, each segment of the community should address the needs of the homeless population in the light of their own. The discovery will be that their needs, interests and concerns over-lap and can coordinate to be mutually beneficial. Also, there are many capacities and talents of different members of the community, including the homeless, that can be peer taught as well as utilized for personal income and fund generation for the implementing mutually beneficial projects. The idea of creating a tax base was also introduced.
At the March 12 inter-community agency meeting, sponsored by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, for addressing “affordable housing, Paul Sutton brought up the tax model of Miami/Dade Co.. Of this designated 1% sales tax, 85% went to homeless concerns, and 15% went to domestic violence. This tiny tax has brought in revenues of $40,000,000/year and seen massive results, in the 22 years being implemented there. It is now being proposed to the Sarasota city and county commissioners.
It was nice to hear from several agencies meeting together, some of which seemed to be more open to starting at the grass roots than others, and seeing the trend to be giving too few, relief, and giving a few, too much, beyond their needs and capacities.
Calvin Collins, Leader of the Housing Outreach Team, Salvation Army has a “boots on the ground” approach to his outreach. He talks and listens. In this listening, he has a good handle on one of the big reasons that keep folks on the street. Many have been through the cycle of hopefulness and hopelessness in the programs offered my multiple agencies, and have lost all hope. Their only validation and support they have left, and the one they are not willing to risk loosing, too, their street family. We need a program that picks up these souls, and takes them, together into a new life.
The moderator, Cathy Kirchner, was the first to acknowledge that having a house of their own, can be a huge stressor in itself, when the homeless have so many other challenges to overcome, first. And there are currently no group homes for Zero Income individuals, as the COC suggests.
Pinellas County is the only Central Florida county that has effectively provided something for all the homeless to find shelter and safety, with some measure of well-being. Ramona Schaefer explained two reasons behind their successes. One of the creative forces behind that success is their “Common Outcomes” funders council that has as it’s purpose, pooling their resources in one common and collaborative process, identifying and filling gaps of services in their community. Many of these agencies co-exist at the same site. The other major difference is their “JUST DO IT” attitude. It starts by starting, working out the fine details later, as they appear. The Jail Diversion Program to Safe Harbor assures that nobody is turned away from their most fundamental need of safety and security. All souls are entitled to at least the minimum shelter and the option of moving up in their accommodations if and as they are willing to follow the rules. Here, they don’t leave but meet up with their peer support street family, with whom they have validation and street cred’. There is no time frame for their stay at this first level shelter, they can eat, rehydrate, rest and learn to trust the system. They have no “follow-up” on those who leave the shelter, but their “back up” enabling system of street feeding, etc. is no longer available, so when they resort to degrading, illegal or parasitic behavior that impact the well-being of the public sector, they are picked up, and instead of jailed, simply returned to the familiar shelter. Over 200 homeless were also engaged on March 21 in a community clean up effort, to show their willingness to contribute to the well-being of the public sector, in gratitude for what the public sector is doing for them.
Wayne Appleby, Sarasota County, suggested that their communty is making great investments and strides providing supportive services and housing for families, but are still lagging woefully behind in providing shelter for single adults, chronic street homeless.
JFCS (Jewish Family and Children Services) is focusing on the needs of the Vets: working on expunging criminal backgrounds to attain work permits; providing bus passes that cross county lines; getting gas cards to get to jobs off of bus routes; providing assisted living for the handicapped and Home economics life skills for those who are acquiring homes, plus dental care and much more. They support giving housing without any requirements of participation in any program or service, just as a place to call “home.” Phillip Gorelack, VP of JFCS is also exploring peer support groups, utilizing assets of the homeless to support eachother and providing a place to consult on their talents, interests and community connections for extension of the asset base.
Elizabeth Nolan heads the Sarasota Focus Group on Homelessness that meets with individuals and agency representatives “in an atmosphere of dignity and respect (to) work together to discuss, develop and deploy commonsense strategies that help people emerge from homelessness.”
Paul Sutton of the Community Aliance to End Homelessness/Suncoast Partnership/CoC (continuum of Care) was impressive when he said their agency had no funds of it’s own. All income is from donations and work is done through volunteers. suggested “ His suggestion was for “Hybrid Housing” and his suggestion was to fund that model following the example of Miami/Dade, as mentioned above. I think the support for that would come by getting the public engaged in the Community Development Potential that comes from “investing” in the poor i.e.: chronic homeless and up.
These meetings gave Bay to Bay Services Hope and Resources for implementing an engagement process with the Public Portion of the Community.