I had never in my life seen anything like it.
It was a strip of hell on Earth — absent laughter, joy and hope. It was the open opioid den in Overtown — an area where these powerful drugs had sucked out life and replaced it with desperate residents of our community. Some were homeless, and that’s why I was there.
I have served as chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust for nearly 25 years, and had never experienced such an absence of human dignity as what I saw in Downtown Miami in October. And yet our outreach teams, our Homeless Trust staff, Miami Police, the South Florida Behavioral Health Network, substance abuse professionals and the Department of Health step into these horrible conditions to save lives, preserve the dignity of neighbors and restore an area. Even these conditions don’t deter our teams.
While the needs are ever present, consider the successes: the announcement by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Veterans Administration and the Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) that we effectively brought an end to veteran homelessness in Miami-Dade. We did this by working with the almost 9,000 vulnerable people in our continuum of care, or simply housing a family of 10 that would otherwise be homeless. In a community that includes 2.8 million people stretching from Homestead to the Broward County line, it’s all in a year’s work.
Thursday, Homeless Awareness Day 2018, we put another stake in the ground, this one to help end a growing phenomenon called “Youth and Family Homelessness.” There is a growing number of families entering homelessness, and we continue to see far too many unaccompanied youth between the ages of 18 and 24. To address these changes, we are dedicating an additional $1.3 million to support these vulnerable households and successfully move them from crisis housing to stable, permanent housing.
We will tackle the challenge of youth and family homelessness like we did all the others — with focus, foresight and community support.
Today we will host almost 100 events around the county, all designed to educate the community on the most compassionate ways to help us help the homeless. Here’s what we are saying: Don’t feed the homeless on the streets — volunteer at a shelter and feed indoors.; the trash and waste left behind from group street feedings erase all the great efforts going on to better our beautiful community; don’t give to panhandlers — many aren’t homeless, and giving them spare change, no matter how pure your motives, encourages them to keep on panhandling.
Miami, let’s give our homeless real change. There are more needs than we can count — volunteer at a homeless provider, mentor or lend us your expertise as a professional. If you are a landlord or property owner or manager, rent us affordable units of housing so we can move people into apartments and homes where they can restart their lives.
Ending homelessness is possible — if we work together.
Ron Book is the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.