Term Paper: Florida's Homeless Introduction and Demographics

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[. . .] Resources

The last decade has brought homelessness to the forefront of social issues, and coalitions have been working toward getting more and more governmental support. As a result, several efforts have been made on federal, state and local levels to help Florida's homeless population.

Federal

The U.S. Congress enacted the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act in 1987. This legislation authorized about 14 different federal programs to aid the homeless. These funds were made available to states, local governments and community agencies for many homeless assistance programs, including outreach, prevention, emergency shelter, transitional and supported housing, health care, alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation centers, mental health centers, educational facilities, job training and veteran reintegration.

Since its enactment, Florida has received about $260 million in McKinney Act funds, which it has used for local efforts to help the homeless and at-risk homeless populations. Federal funds are generally dispersed through continuums of care adopted on the local level.

State

Homeless efforts made by the state typically fall into one of two categories: prevention and early intervention; and efforts to reduce and aid homeless conditions when they occur. The state spends millions of dollars annually on Medicaid, housing programs, public assistance, public health centers, education, family resources, rehabilitation programs, child support enforcement and juvenile justice.

As a result of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), victims of non-disaster emergencies in Florida, including homelessness, will be able to receive help so that they will not become homeless or go hungry. EFSP has allocated $6.8 million in funds for the fiscal year 2002. Of this amount, $2.5 million will be given to agencies in Florida to feed and shelter the homeless.

A recent development that was funded by the state is the Department of Children and Families' $5 million Temporary Housing Assistance for Homeless Families Programs, which provides temporary financial aid for housing and extensive case management services to homeless families in Florida. The funds that are generated to the homeless through this program are used to pay first month's rent, security deposits, utility deposits and other services needed to sustain housing. The funds can also be used to help homeless families obtain housing, employment and other support services that will help them become independent and self-sufficient.

The Department of Children and Families also provides a $2 million Emergency Financial Assistance for Housing Program that aims to help homeless families and at-risk families due to emergencies or disasters.

The Department of Community Affairs has also been established by the state to generate new housing units for low and moderate income Florida residents. State funds are frequently used to leverage private sector involvement in affordable housing development.

The state also provides funds to Florida's local homeless coalitions, which are responsible for planning and coordinating homeless services, promoting public awareness, providing necessary information and referrals to assist the homeless, gather and prepare data for federal, state and local reports on homeless conditions, and seek federal, state and other resources to help the homeless. These coalitions obtain tens of millions of dollars in grants and resources for the homeless, which makes it a wise investment for the state.

The state has also implemented several initiatives designed to help prevent homelessness. The State Domestic Abuse Program is one of the most important homeless prevention initiatives in Florida. The shelters in this program provide support for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and abuse, which helps prevent them from turning to the streets.

There is also a statewide network of shelters and intervention services for juveniles, runaways, drug and alcohol abuser and the mentally ill. Many programs help to provide child-care, education and family support services for the at-risk population. These programs help to prevent and alleviate many of the socio-economic conditions that contribute directly to homelessness.

During the 2001 legislative session, several new initiatives were created to review and fund the needs of the homeless. The legislation aims to substantially increase funding and better coordinate the substantially lacking programs for the homeless. The new law was created from recommendations made by the Commission on the Homeless, to address solutions for the state's homelessness problem and propose solutions for reducing homelessness and improving social services for the homeless.

In addition to establishing an Office of Homelessness at the Department of Children and Families, the legislation also provides $9.8 million to implement the bill, including $4 million to fund the "Challenge Grants" for implementation of local homeless continuum of care plans; $625,000 to fund one position in each of the 25 homeless coalitions across the state with each coalition receiving up to $25,000; $198,000 to increase the annual appropriation in Department of Children and Families' homeless grant-in-aid program; and $5 million from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to the State Office on Homelessness to fund housing assistance grants to build transitional or permanent housing for the homeless.

The state of Florida has created and implemented many programs and encouraged many businesses that directly benefit homeless people. The Temporary Financial Assistance for Homeless Families Program (TFAHF) provides short-term funds and promotes self-sufficiency for homeless people who are transitioning into permanent housing. The Emergency Financial Assistance for Housing Program (EFAHP) provides help to families who are at risk of becoming homeless. The Homeless Grant-in Aid (Direct Service) Program provides funding for community-based organizations that support homeless people.

The state also provides funding for local homeless coalitions, domestic violence services and homeless and runaway youth programs. To date, the largest federal initiative grant in the state of Florida provides grants to school districts and other local education agencies to ensure that homeless children has equal access to a free public education.

The Florida Housing Coalition, a nonprofit, statewide membership organization, was created to help improve the problem of homelessness by bringing together advocates and resources to provide safe and affordable housing for all Floridians. The coalition provides information and assistance on affordable housing issues and supports community-based partnerships in maximizing the availability and quality of affordable housing.

In 1998, the Coalition provided emergency shelter and services and transitional housing to approximately 3,500 people and served more than 288,000 hot meals.

Local

Local agencies, government and community organizations were involved with the homeless for years before federal and state governments stepped in. Local groups and governments fund and provider as much as 70% of all services and programs in Florida.

Local agencies mainly deal with the emergency needs of the homeless, such as shelter, food, clothing, housing assistance, employment services, alcohol, drug abuse and mental illness treatment, transportation and case management. These services are mostly confined to urban areas and medium-sized communities. For the most part, rural areas of Florida provide limited assistance to the homeless.

Still Have Needs

Florida's coalitions have identified the following as the most important needs of the state's homeless population: employment and improved wages; affordable housing; emergency shelter and support services; food and clothing; case management; housing assistance; health care; drug and alcohol abuse services; mental health services; emergency financial aid; transportation; childcare; education; and improved resources in rural areas.

Despite the efforts of the government and community groups, the response to homelessness has not reached critical mass in many communities, and homeless people are suffering. Some communities experience difficulty in garnering support from local leadership, others struggle with re-inventing a wheel that has long since been invented, and others live in communities where the resources and infrastructure to address problems do not exist.

The problem of homelessness is not going away; it is getting worse. While Florida's leaders are working toward meeting the needs of the homeless, it has not yet been enough to solve the problem. Further initiatives need to enacted to continue the battle toward affordable and decent housing for all Floridians.

Bibliography

Florida Annual Report on Homeless Conditions in Florida, Deaprtment of Children and Families.

The Christian Science Monitor, July 2000.

National Coalition for the Homeless, http://nch.ari.net/facts.html.

Said, Barbara; Daskal, Jennifer; Housing and Welfare Reform: Some Background Information; November, 1998.

Bush, Jeb; Seibert, Steven; Florida Dept. Of Community Affairs; State of Florida Consolidated Plan, Fiscal Years 2000-2004.

Congressional Budget Office; http://www.cbo.gov.

United Way; Statistics of Homelessness; www.efsp.unitedway.org.

Jamshid A. Momeni ed.; Homelessness in the United States; Volume I: State Surveys; 1989.

Rado, Diane; St. Petersburg Times, Senate advances bill to help homeless; St. Petersburg Times; March 28, 2001.

Agencies In Florida Will Receive $2.5 Million To Feed, Shelter Homeless; Atlanta, GA; January 8, 2002.

Brown, Morgan; Census figures on S. Florida homeless are misleading; South Florida Sun Sentinelk; October, 2001.

Florida Annual Report on Homeless Conditions in Florida, Department of Children and Families.

Excerpted from The Christian Science Monitor, July 2000.

National Coalition for the Homeless, http://nch.ari.net/facts.html.

Said, Barbara; Daskal, Jennifer; Housing and Welfare Reform: Some Background Information; November, 1998.

Bush, Jeb; Seibert, Steven; Florida… [END OF PREVIEW]

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