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The high cost of doing nothing about homelessness

And why housing engagement, designed to get people out of homelessness and into housing, is the best approach


Many of my articles are types of book reports or include my research, and this column on homelessness will be an example of this. I recently met Martha Are of the Homeless Services Network (HSN) of Central Florida to discuss ideas of how to open a shelter in the Apopka area with a large tranche of federal dollars the county received as mitigation dollars for recent hurricanes. I will share some statistics from her organization and an insightful review of an article entitled, “A Tale of Two Tent Cities; the Critical Role of Housing Engagement in Addressing Homeless Encampments,” published in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy from Spring of 2023.

The Homeless Services Network leads Central Florida’s efforts to house people experiencing homelessness and to help them remain housed. They run a centralized intake system throughout the region and help draw down millions of dollars in federal funding for homeless housing. They partner with dozens of nonprofit agencies and local government partners to coordinate outreach, emergency shelters, transitional housing, and other resources. Martha is assisting me with the shelter grant opportunity. It will be challenging, and I ask your prayers for success.

Orange County Commissioner District 2 Christine Moore
Orange County Commissioner District 2 Christine Moore

Just in 2023, the HSN launched an $8.4 million initiative to help prevent and end homelessness among 1- to 24-year-olds. The effort included housing, educational support, career training, and mental and physical healthcare. They also coordinated shelter and transportation during freeze warnings and distributed cooling supplies during the record-breaking summer heat. 99 percent of their funding goes to help people get stable housing.

Many of you have been reading about a bill in the state legislature to force municipalities without any funding to create homeless camps. This “book report” will discuss this method of dealing with homeless persons and make recommendations for more productive strategies.

In “A Tale of Two Tent Cities“ the authors state, “Local governments have essentially three choices in responding to the presence of homeless encampments.”

  • They can adopt a law enforcement approach, forcing individuals to move their camps on pain of arrest for trespassing. 

This method does not solve the problem of people without homes, and a recent court decision limits the ability of the government to pursue it unless there is adequate space in a shelter. We have read about this in the case of Altamonte Springs.

  • A municipality can adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” approach by designating a specified area where homeless individuals are permitted to camp. The article delineates several examples of this from Gainesville. The camps can be a petri dish for crime, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and more. The cost of law enforcement daily trips to referee are also substantial. This is the process the legislature is currently proposing.
  • The third choice is a housing engagement approach designed to get people out of homelessness and into housing. It substantially reduces the hidden costs of tent cities, encampments, and promotes a pro-social, well-regulated environment. However, it takes a truly organized and commitment local government.

If I can find the time to write more about the Gainesville camps examples I will. I currently believe we need to fund the capital costs for a shelter replete with the HSN management systems and require the three newly approved affordable housing projects in northwest Orange County to rent to a number of these homeless. If the municipality begins to take in more than their fair share from nearby counties and jurisdictions, they can always resort to choice number one. I do believe we can manage to find some affordable housing options for homeless persons. Most of the homeless persons have some sort of funding, albeit Medicaid, Medicare, or Disability and can pay some amount of rent. 

I’m terribly concerned when we see 1/3 of the homeless in our area being women with young children. The cost of doing nothing is too great, and with the state legislature knocking at our door to establish “camps”, building a shelter and finding housing options sure seems superior. 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Orange County, Orange County Commissioner Christine Moore, District 2, Opinion, OP/ED, Homelessness, Homeless Services Network


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