Miami’s homeless plan signals win all around

Kudos to Miami city commissioners, who voted last week to invest in a respectful, resourceful approach to address the city’s homeless population. It is a plan that falls lock-step in line with the recommendations of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust and, most important, is mindful of the needs of homeless individuals and families. It also ensures that the taxpayers’ funds are put to the best use, and not the most politically expedient one.

The City Commission voted to accept a compromise of the originally proposed “revolving door” plan that attempted to pressure the Homeless Trust into funding overnight shelter beds that have been proven to be the least effective in addressing homelessness. What was approved, instead, is funding to support the existing, proven program that offers the homeless the opportunity to engage in our established system of housing and services.

The resolution allocates more than $240,000 to the Homeless Trust to competitively purchase additional emergency housing beds that come with services provided by professionals trained to stabilize and identify the steps needed to assist people in moving toward self-sufficiency.

This allocation will be added to funding already approved by the Homeless Trust to provide additional emergency-housing beds to serve the chronic homeless, families and homeless youth. The city’s funding commitment for emergency housing — and not overnight shelter beds — will result in (approximately) an additional 75 to 80 beds designated to assist the city’s homeless, in addition to other beds funded by the Homeless Trust to assist homeless from anywhere in the county.

Attempting to pressure the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust to fund “shelter” beds so that police have a place to dump the homeless pulled off the streets, as initially proposed, was a dangerously flawed plan based solely on emotion, not on best practices. That revolving-door plan only promised a quick fix that would get the chronically homeless out of sight each night, but would have done nothing to solve the problem of homelessness.

When police pull homeless people off the street and drop them off at “shelter beds,” they are off the street for a night. But the next morning they must leave those beds and are back on the streets, denied services to help them get on their feet. The “emergency beds” that have been and will continue to be funded by the Homeless Trust provide homeless individuals with the opportunity to stay and engage in a system that solves the problem for more than one night; they are assessed by a professional, given a case number, a caseworker, a plan and a future. More than 14,400 people were served by this system last year, including 5,924 placed into emergency housing.

As important, following the recommendations of that initial plan would have been inordinately more expensive and less effective than the proven system that the Homeless Trust currently operates — a plan recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a national model and best practice. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has gone so far as to compare the Homeless Trust model with those that rely on the revolving-door plans. He said, “The thing we finally figured out is that it’s actually not only better for people, but cheaper to solve homelessness than it is to put a Band-Aid on it.”

For 20 years the Trust Board, with its diverse membership, has guided its decisions based on facts, research and data, resulting in the creation of more than 5,600 emergency, transitional and permanent housing beds, and reducing the homeless street population to fewer than 900 people. The investment in proven, effective programs to serve the chronic homeless has also been significant and will continue to be our focus. We acknowledge that more remains to be done.

While getting to this vote was a publicly painful process, we are gratified that, in the end, the right decision was made for both the homeless individuals, and the taxpayers who foot the bill. This proposal also opened a broader dialogue between the experts on homelessness and community leaders like Mayor Tomás Regalado. We look to the city’s support and leadership in helping us develop permanent supportive housing for the many homeless in our community — including Housing First programs — which is ultimately the most effective way of ensuring long-term stability for those leaving our streets, a goal all of us want.

Ron Book is chair of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.

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