In recent weeks there has been a lot talk concerning mats, the outdoor shelter program and Camillus House. Until now, the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd and the Camillus team have remained focused on our work and have not yet shared our thoughts with the public.
When Camillus House first opened the mat program one year ago, it was to address the capacity constraints within our community’s emergency-housing system. Frankly, there were not enough emergency shelter beds. The decision to open this initiative was a compassionate response to the hundreds of individuals in need of shelter. Clearly, not everyone shared this vision, but 1,242 men and women were served this past year.
Championed by both Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and his wife, Teresa, the mat program was made possible by their commitment to raising the private and public dollars to support the initiative. There were equally passionate voices that stood against the program. The most notable was Ron Book. While I disagree with him about the efficacy of the mat program, I commend his dedication over the past two decades as the chair of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust. I am certain that both sides of this issue are based their opinions of what they perceived to be in the best interest of our community.
Coming together, of course, wasn’t easy. We thank County Mayor Carlos Gimenez for his guidance throughout this process. It was through his leadership that dialogue was encouraged and, thus, communication fostered. We also acknowledge the leadership of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who has consistently helped our city’s homeless and whose innovative thinking and support of lavatory services for those still living on the street is providing dignity to a marginalized population while addressing public health concerns.
The agreement reached last Friday between the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County, and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust is a game changer.
Camillus is in the process of closing the 115-mat program and moving individuals into other programs funded by the Homeless Trust. Special thanks go to the entire continuum of care that came together as a community to help those we serve and put an end to this chapter of homelessness.
The city of Miami and its partners (Downtown Development Authority and the Community Redevelopment Agencies — Omni/Midtown and Southeast Overtown/Park West) have agreed to fund 75 emergency beds at Camillus. And, the Homeless Trust will issue a Request for Application (RFA) for 75 more emergency shelter beds within the continuum. We have replaced 115 mats with 150 beds!
Another initiative, the Strike Force: Urban Core, is a Homeless Trust pilot program that will focus on a 42-block radius of downtown Miami, and 91 apartment units have been funded to facilitate “housing first.” Additional resources have been requested via an RFA for more outreach teams for a multidisciplinary approach to team up outreach and mental-health practitioners to reach the most isolated and desperate in our community.
While the debate of mats vs. beds was often biting, the result was a positive one.
It is also a reminder that reasonable people who disagree can still work together for the good of all. From our hearty debate over the mats, a healthy and open environment of cooperation has been established to carry on our shared mission statement to end chronic homelessness in our community.
Camillus House started as a shelter to house Cuban refugees in 1960 with a steadfast pledge to serve those most in need. This commitment continues today. We are working hard to expand capacity at our 14 locations across the county to better serve the neediest among us.
On behalf of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, the board of directors, led by Bob Dickinson, staff members of Camillus House and Camillus Health Concern and, most important, the clients whom we serve, I remain humbled and grateful for the recent actions that will make us a stronger, more-compassionate community.
Shed Boren is a social worker and the CEO of Camillus House and Camillus Health Concern.