Rarely a day goes by when I don’t hear them: gut-wrenching stories of loss, failure and hopelessness that have gripped too many. As the chair of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, and like the many social service agencies in the trenches, I am acutely aware of the breadth and depth of homelessness and its impact in our community. We deal with it every single day of the year.
Then there was May 26, 2012.
The savage attack on 65-year-old Ronald Poppo made national headlines, and imprinted itself on our consciousness. Suddenly everyone was aware of the sad life of this chronically homeless man. We at the Homeless Trust were aware of it, too. Our outreach teams had engaged him on numerous occasions to no avail. Poppo was among the 800 or so homeless persons who remain on our streets today. We don’t need a tragic incident to remind us that it is 800 too many; that one in three sleeping on our streets are chronic homeless.
What many may not be aware of is that it is far less than the 8,000 from almost 20 years ago. They likely do not know that our homeless system of care now boasts more than 7,000 beds, providing everything from emergency housing, transitional treatment beds or permanent supportive housing. They probably aren’t aware that more than 14,840 men, women and children were provided emergency housing and services in a 20-month period; that one in three persons experiencing homelessness are in families, and one in 11 are veterans.
They may by unaware that there is a comprehensive local homeless continuum of care that is a national model and best practice. And they quite possibly don’t know that of the many things government can do wrong, this it did right. Our approach to addressing homelessness is working, but government can’t do it alone.
That is why on Nov. 15, during Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, Miami-Dade County marks Homeless Awareness Day. It is our chance to remind everyone that homelessness still impacts our community each and every day. It is our opportunity to tell our residents and our businesses what they can do to help end homelessness in Miami-Dade.
It begins with a simple act as we continue the efforts to end homelessness and panhandling. Help by feeding a meter if you really want to feed the hungry, by putting spare change in the Britto donation meters around our community and not giving it to a panhandler. One-hundred percent of the proceeds are used for emergency housing programs. If you are a business, sponsor a meter. Help us increase awareness of homelessness, and the long term solutions that we are working on, and that are working. More importantly, help us by hiring the homeless and formerly homeless. The Homeless Trust’s employment program has job-ready, pre-qualified individuals eager to re-join the workforce, as a temp or in permanent employment.
That’s what Majesty Food’s Patty King division did, and why it will be one of several businesses recognized by Mayor Carlos Gimenez at the Mayor’s Forum on Homelessness on Nov. 15. For more than a decade, homeless and formerly homeless persons have been placed at Patty King through a day labor program. Patty King gets job-ready, pre-qualified help, and the homeless/formerly homeless persons get job experience and a chance to (re-)build a resume. Occasionally, when one person really stands out, Patty King hires them. Others in the program work with job developers for placement, or participate in vocational training, getting certified for everything from long-haul truck driving, to food prep and security guard services. And as of Nov. 15, there will be one easy number and email for businesses to use to tell us about these often life-changing opportunities.
We know we have a generous community that wants to help. And we hope that once they become aware of how they can help, they will. We can finish the job of ending homelessness if you join us.
Ron Book is chair of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, which coordinates the day-long series of events for Homeless Awareness Day, including the Mayor’s Forum, high school student rallies at local universities, and cardboard brigades on public sidewalks.