The readers’ forum

Adding beds won’t solve homeless problem


Re the June 14 story City to add 15 beds at shelters: Over the last several weeks our community has watched several Miami commissioners’ efforts to deal with the homeless population in and around the downtown urban core.

The expectation, or the wishful anticipation, was that elected officials concerned with the visibility of homeless people would take a collaborative approach to solving the problem. There was great hope that the elected officials would engage the management and civic leadership of the Homeless Trust — a proven and nationally recognized organization with expertise in using designated tax dollars to manage a transformational model known as the continuum of care plan — to craft a holistic approach to resolve the homeless issue. After all, many regularly visit Miami seeking input and guidance from the Trust and/or its service providers because of its track record.

In the early 1990s, business, civic and elected officials of greater Miami had the amazing vision to push for and secure passage of the 1-percent food and beverage tax that funds the local continuum-of-care plan.

The model is hailed nationally as one of the most viable, effective and efficient public/private partnerships used to resolve chronic homelessness. The overwhelming success of the initiative is attributed to the core element of the model – a three-stage plan that meets the needs of the homeless in a holistic fashion by providing well-structured transformational programs for them to permanently end their state of homelessness, regain their dignity and return to normal, productive lives.

This approach includes services such as temporary and transitional sheltering, temporary and permanent housing options, case management, substance-abuse treatment, medical care, job training and placement, childcare and education.

It seeks to resolve the homeless condition, not hide it.

When the Homeless Trust and the continuum of care plan were put into place the homeless population in Miami-Dade County was approximately 8,000. Today this number typically averages less than 1,000. The model works.

But instead, the City Commission chose to “nudge the county’s Homeless Trust” by approving funding for 15 new shelter beds that come with no other integrated service component; they are simply overnight storage units for the homeless population. It is the approach that others have unsuccessfully used to deal with the homeless population primarily because it does not offer a structured and defined path to self sufficiency and a return to normalcy.

Instead of passing a resolution and thereby attempting to force the hand of others, it would have been much more prudent and productive for the elected officials to meet with our nationally recognized experts and for the outcome to have been a well thought out, integrated plan to resolve the problem. How refreshing it would have been to see collaboration, cooperation and deference to the experts as opposed to the “nudge” approach.

Carlos Fernandez-Guzman, Miami

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