Miami-Dade County

A struggling day program gives homeless 1 more year to shower and eat

Men and women admitted into Camillus House’s day center last February wait in line to eat.
Men and women admitted into Camillus House’s day center last February wait in line to eat. Roberto Koltun

Slated to close at the end of the month due to federal funding cuts, a popular daytime Miami homeless shelter program will remain open for another year thanks to private donations and public support.

Camillus House CEO Hilda Fernandez broke the news Wednesday to the homeless shelter’s employees, telling them that the nonprofit’s headquarters on Northwest Seventh Avenue will continue to make showers, mail services, computers, clothing and food available every morning to dozens of men and women at least until this time next year. Previously, the organization’s $1 million-a-year daytime center was expected to close June 30 due to HUD funding cuts.

But reduced funding means the program will function at only a fraction of the 300-person capacity that existed only months ago. Fernandez said she’ll continue to search for pledges in the hopes of expanding services, but for now is relieved just to keep the program open.

The fact that we’re not shutting down completely is a major victory

Hilda Fernandez, Camillus House CEO

“The fact that we’re not shutting down completely is a major victory,” Fernandez said. “We’re turning people out on a daily basis. It’s brutal.”

Before federal funding cuts led Miami-Dade County’s Homeless Trust to de-fund Camillus House’s day center last year, the program served up to 340 people a day, according to organization executives. These days, Fernandez said the daytime program, which offers the bare necessities to Miami’s most needy, is usually full to capacity by 9:30.

Downtown boosters and residents say the service is crucial because it keeps the streets free of vagrants and panhandlers. Condo owners reacted with frustration earlier this year when Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, refused to dip further into the agency’s reserves to keep the program alive at a reduced 150-person capacity.

But Fernandez says the program will at least remain open to up to 70 men and women each day starting July 1 following a successful donation drive. She said Camillus House is pushing to up that number to 100 through additional fundraising efforts, including a GoFundMe drive.

The ultimate goal, she said, is to get back to serving 150 people a day.

“We need help from the community,” she said.

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