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Andrae Bailey, CEO and President, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness
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Central Florida 2016 Point in Time Homelessness Count Captures Double-Digit Decrease
Official numbers from the annual “Point In Time” count show a nearly 24% drop in homeless since 2015
Orange County, FL – According to numbers released today by the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida (HSN), Central Florida’s annual “Point-in-Time” (PIT) census identified a one-year 23.6 percent decrease in the number of homeless individuals in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties, as of Jan. 27, 2016.
The PIT count this year identified 1,613 homeless individuals, continuing the downward trend observed in January 2015, when 2,112 unsheltered individuals were accounted for in Central Florida. In 2014, 2,254 homeless individuals were captured during the PIT during the same timeframe.
The PIT count, an annual physical count of homeless individuals, serves as a gauge to capture the number of persons or families in a community who meet the federal definition of homeless, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The PIT count takes place at the same time nationwide each year, providing communities with important information about the scale of homelessness, need for services, and possible trends in how homelessness is changing over time. Communities that receive federal funding for homeless services are required to conduct a comprehensive homeless shelter and street count at least every two years in order to maintain funding eligibility, and are encouraged to conduct the PIT Count every year.
In partnership with community agencies, churches, local government, law enforcement and volunteers, the Homeless Services Network (HSN) is the agency that coordinates Central Florida’s annual PIT Count. “In terms of assessing how our community is doing in impacting homelessness, the PIT count is an important tool, as communities across the nation perform an actual head count of homeless individuals in their communities, within the same 10-day period each year,” said Martha Are, Executive Director of the Homeless Services Network. “Through an intensely coordinated effort within the tri-county region – including the efforts of highly-trained volunteer teams in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, as well as Orlando, Sanford and Kissimmee, we performed an exhaustive and comprehensive outreach to identify homeless individuals, families and Veterans in Central Florida. For the third year in a row, we are seeing a downward turn in the number of homeless – a trend that is surely related to the intense efforts that this community has engaged in to impact homelessness.”
This year, Central Florida was joined by HUD Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti, who met with volunteers and organizers just prior to the count.
Through the work of volunteers trained by HSN, the PIT Count (conducted on Jan 20 and Jan 27, 2016) captured data about how many individuals and families in Central Florida are experiencing homelessness on a given night. Agencies and volunteers partnered to identify homeless persons who were sheltered as well as unsheltered, including those sleeping outside, in cars or abandoned buildings.
“The PIT Count serves as a barometer – a tool to help us know if we’re making progress,” said Andrae Bailey, CFCH CEO. “Already, we believe we’ve achieved a rate of functional zero for our chronically homeless Veterans. We know that the Housing First strategy works, and are continuing our work with the chronically homeless – those with very difficult situations, including mental illness and disabilities, that make it hard to get them on track for housing. We’re launching new initiatives to help families who are homeless or doubled up in motels, a challenge made even more difficult because of issues like poverty that have a direct impact on family homelessness.”
About 40 percent on the current PIT respondents were female and 60 percent was male. Additionally, 14 percent were Veterans, 23 percent were children, and 15 percent were families.
“The Central Florida Foundation thanks everyone involved in the Point-In-Time count,” said Mark Brewer, President and CEO of the Central Florida Foundation. “This data is a critical driver for the region’s collaboration to reduce homelessness, and has direct impact on the lives of people without shelter.” Orange County is the single largest funder of public services for the homeless in Central Florida, currently allocating more than $7 million in direct funds.
“One of the greatest challenges for homeless and at-risk families in Central Florida is the lack of affordable housing. We’re working to address this shortage through a variety of regional measures, including partnerships to assist the most difficult to house families, and also by incentivizing the marketplace to increase the inventory of affordable, quality rentals for low income families,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “In order to more fully embrace the ‘Housing First’ model for these households, we’ve got to create more housing. In addition to the programs that we launched earlier this year, strategies to address the shortage of affordable family housing will be discussed with our counterparts in Osceola and Seminole county, as well as the City of Orlando and others, at a regional summit that we’re planning to convene in the fall.”
Orange County was recently named as one of only five select communities in the nation to participate in a federal training opportunity called “Sequential Intercept Mapping,” a process that helps community leaders identify gaps and systemic weakness that often times effect vulnerable populations who become entangled in the criminal justice system, including homeless populations.
According to City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, “Homelessness has been an unprecedented challenge for far too long for our entire region. This year’s PIT count demonstrates the success our region is having in addressing homelessness. Through partnerships between Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties and private businesses and nonprofits we have made great strides in building affordable housing units and dedicating resources to case management. I am confident with continued collaboration we can build on this momentum and reduce homelessness in Central Florida.”
Even with significant ongoing homeless initiatives in a community, it is not uncommon that reduced population counts can take multiple years to reflect efforts. As Martha Are noted, “During 2015, agencies in the tri-county region reported moving 3,387 people from homelessness into permanent housing. This is clearly a factor in the reduced numbers of this year’s count.”
In Central Florida, significant efforts remain ongoing to align existing models with national best practices, which focus on a “Housing First” national philosophy. Through the collaborative efforts of key stakeholders, including the business community, nonprofit providers, faith groups, and regional jurisdictions, the tri-county area continues to focus on reducing Veterans, chronic, and family homelessness.
“We greatly appreciate the hard work of the volunteers who contributed their time in the count process and we are encouraged that the numbers both in the region and in Seminole County are decreasing.” said John Horan, Chairman of the Seminole County Board of County Commissioners. “But we know there is more work to do. Seminole County is marshalling the resources of government, faith communities, philanthropy, employment agencies, and others to address Seminole County’s goals and those of the region. To that end, we formed a special Task Force of business leaders who developed the ‘Seminole County Action Strategy: An Approach to Impact and Reduce Homelessness in Seminole County,’ which employs the Housing First approach and incorporates business principles and evidence based practices. This ‘Action Strategy’ will address the needs of families and individuals, and focus special attention on the homelessness of students in our school system. We are committed in Seminole County to reducing homelessness even further. It is important to the quality of life of all of our residents.” The PIT count has taken place in Central Florida for many years – starting in the late 1990’s, and fulfills a federal requirement that was formally implemented in 2007 for those communities receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. In addition, the PIT Count serves as an annual barometer of community need.
“I appreciate the effort that goes into the count and all those who help. We are seeing positive results from a coordinated effort throughout the region with the numbers of chronically homeless decreasing from year to year,” said Osceola County Commissioner Brandon Arrington, who chairs the Osceola Homeless Task Force. “That’s especially the case in Osceola but we will continue to work hard for solutions for the 175 homeless people we found in this year’s Point In Time count. While we continue to provide services to the homeless, we are encouraged by a decrease of approximately 40 percent this year. This validates our strategic planning goals to focus our efforts on homeless families and the Housing First approach.”
“We appreciate all the providers and community volunteers who participated in the 2016 Point in Time count,” said Jose Alvarez, City of Kissimmee Commissioner. “The communities are working hard to design and implement a better coordinated system to make sure we are helping the most vulnerable in our community.”
The count takes place the last week in January and includes a strict reporting process. Information that is collected is subsequently documented in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), where case managers from throughout the region can identify, offer and manage appropriate services for families in need, as well as military Veterans and the chronically homeless.
About Central Florida Commission on Homelessness: The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness was established as a nonprofit organization committed to eradicating homelessness in Central Florida. Through research, strategic policy development, collaborative leadership engagement, and high-impact grassroots campaigns, the Commission has made significant headway in informing our community about the issues facing the homeless, and inspiring them to take action. On a concrete level, the Commission coordinates nonprofits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic initiatives, private sector businesses, and other charitable and community organizations to impact homelessness in the Orange, Osceola, and Seminole county area. Under the leadership of Andrae Bailey, the Commission serves as a hub of information and initiatives, directing resources and energy to the appropriate local pathways.