From homeless to housed

Ronald Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, left, watches as Manuel Sarria inputs data on his tablet about a homeless person during a survey in downtown Miami last month.
Ronald Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, left, watches as Manuel Sarria inputs data on his tablet about a homeless person during a survey in downtown Miami last month. Carl Juste

While a hot meal, shower and change of clothes can be the first step to restoring a homeless person’s dignity, nothing is as powerful or as successful to ending homelessness as helping someone find a place of their own to call home.

From the moment a homeless person is approached on the streets, the question is: How do we get this person housed? For many, a little boost is all they need to get back on their feet. Help securing a job or navigating an affordable place to live will bring an end to what is likely a once-in-a-lifetime situation.

For the most vulnerable and those who have been on the streets for years, the goal is the same — get them housed and do it as quickly as possible, no matter how complex the situation.

Over the past year, more than 400 homeless veterans have been given the keys to a new life through stable housing, part of a nationwide push to end veterans’ homelessness. The Miami VA, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, local mayors and other elected officials have joined forces to see this goal through by year’s end because we all agree that no veteran should be sleeping on our streets after serving his or her country.

More recently, the Homeless Trust launched Strike Force: Urban Core, a pilot initiative to reduce the number of homeless persons in Downtown Miami where so much of the homeless population is concentrated. With data under our belts showing permanent housing has a more than 95-percent success rate in our community, we recently invested more than $1 million in food and beverage tax funds to provide housing for more than 90 of the most chronically homeless individuals in the city’s center.

It’s not a giveaway. It’s a calculated decision driven by the numbers.

While it costs approximately $16,000 a year to provide someone who’s homeless a modest apartment and wrap-around services, it costs much, much more to allow that person to remain homeless and on the streets and in and out of jails, court systems and hospitals. Over the past three weeks, more than 150 downtown homeless have been registered as part of the Strike Force initiative, and many of them have begun the journey toward stable housing.

Housing the homeless would not be possible without property owners, managers and landlords willing to take a chance — and provide a second chance — to those who have lost their housing.

Breaks in employment, bad credit and past evictions are not uncommon. Even so, despite mistakes and sometimes unimaginable situations, including lives riddled with trauma, chaos and loss, clients in our programs are working hard to make a fresh start. Stable housing greatly enhances their ability to succeed, and landlords play an integral role in helping individuals take charge of their lives, while also making our community a better place to live.

On Thursday, Nov. 5 — Homeless Awareness Day 2015 — we are appealing to property owners and landlords interested in partnering with the Homeless Trust and our network of service providers to help us solve homelessness.

We can’t do it alone and we won’t rest until everyone is housed. Interested landlords can contact us at homelesstrust@miamidade.gov.

Ronald L. Book is chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.