ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 23, 2014 — There are 71,000 school-age children in Florida who are homeless; one-third of people experiencing homelessness are children; and 42 percent of the children in families experiencing homelessness are under the age of six – and not even included in the homelessness count. In fact, 58.7 percent of Florida’s homeless population had homes a year ago.
Family and chronic homelessness is a huge issue for Florida, according to those in the trenches who attended the Florida Realtors®-sponsored Housing Matters Summit on Family Homelessness Sept. 22 at the Renaissance Orlando Airport Hotel. The standing-room-only event drew 250 participants from across the U.S., including community activists, Realtors and business leaders, as well as local, state and national advocates for the homeless.
“Having a home is a baseline need for everyone,” said Erik Braun, executive director of the Florida Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) Office of Homelessness. “Family homelessness impacts families for generations. The way we deal with it now is going to have an impact on family homelessness in the future.”
He urged Realtors to continue to be a part of the efforts to end homelessness in Florida, adding “business leaders and entrepreneurs can speak to the bottom line. They have leverage that perhaps the agencies and nonprofits don’t have.”
Florida Realtors® President Sherri Meadows, CEO and team leader, Keller Williams, with market centers in Gainesville, Ocala and The Villages, agreed that Realtors are “uniquely positioned to help find answers to the issue of homelessness.”
“As the Florida Housing Coalition noted earlier this month during their housing conference, Florida Realtors is a dedicated advocate for housing at all income levels,” Meadows said. “When families have a secure and stable lifetime residence, they can build a foundation for self-sufficiency. Realtors believe in our communities and we believe we can make a difference: raising awareness and helping to combat family homelessness has been a key focus for us this year.”
Getting people into housing is the crucial first step, advocates agreed, noting that Florida desperately needs more very low and low-income workforce housing units to help those experiencing family and chronic homelessness.
“As a Realtor for 39 years, I believe that Realtor associations can help by partnering with their local organization or group that works with the homeless,” said Claudette Bruck.
She explained that the homeless advocacy group could contact the Realtor when they have someone who is ready to move into an apartment or other permanent housing and “the Realtor could check the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) then and there to find out what rental housing is available and appropriate.” Bruck is a founding and current member of the board of the Broward Partnership for the Homeless, which built and operates the Broward County Central Homeless Assistance Center.
In a call to action for Realtors and others, summit participants also were urged to contact their state legislators to advocate for full funding for the Sadowski housing trust funds, and ask that all the money be used for workforce and affordable housing in 2015.
State Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-South Pasadena) said it’s going to take more public-private partnerships to develop the much-needed permanent housing and provide other critical support such as mental health services to end homelessness.
Did you know? Summit highlights
- Family homelessness in Central Florida affects some 30,000 people
- Average age for a homeless child in the U.S. is 12 months
- Family homelessness is about economics; chronic homelessness is about disabilities
- Every school district in the U.S. has a homelessness liaison
- There are 65 school bus stops at hotels and motels along U.S. 192 in Osceola County
- In Central Florida, 80 percent of the homeless are not living in shelters
- Causal issues related to homelessness: lack of childcare, joblessness and underemployment, lack of transportation, lack of affordable housing and rental housing obstacles such as bad credit, past evictions or lack of references
Housing summit speakers included: Ronald L. Book, chair of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust; Linda Landman Gonzalez, Orlando Magic vice president of community relations and government affairs; Andrae Bailey, CEO, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness; Erik Braun, Office on Homelessness, Florida Department of Children and Families; state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; state Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena; Josh Leopold, Urban Institute; Joe Roberts, PATH Los Angeles; R.J. Collins, Austin, Tex.-based Tejas Housing Group; Ronnie Hodges, New Life Alliance of Austin, Tex.; Barbara Peters, First Step Staffing in Atlanta; Gladys Schneider, Florida Housing Coalition; Shannon Nazworth, Florida Council on Homelessness; Beth Davalos, Seminole County Schools, Families in Transition; Mark Waltrip, Westgate, Hospitality Helps; Bobbie Ibarra, Miami Coalition for the Homeless; and Diana Stanley, The Lord’s Place in West Palm Beach.