Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Homeless Board Members Suggests Major Changes to Confront Bad Policy

While police enforcement of anti-homeless criminal ordinances in Fort Lauderdale is well-known, few concern themselves with the entities who are actually in charge of homeless policy for the area. For Broward County, that entity is technically the Broward County Commission. It is advised by the Broward County Continuum of Care Board, which meets once a month to talk about cooperative projects for homeless welfare. It consists of various groups such as the Broward Homeless Initiative Partnership (HIP), Hope South Florida, Broward Outreach Center, and others.

FLPD officer at last month's
"storage ban" debacle
The CoC's bureaucracy and avoidance of major homeless issues in its jurisdiction is, to most spectators, bewildering. However, this month's convening of Board Members on May 25th brought some unusual moments of clarity, in part spurred by recent events. 

The last monthly meeting of CoC took place not long after the Stranahan storage ban incident. Board members described something of a scramble to do something to discourage the city from going through with this effort. (Worth noting: City Commissioner Dean Trantalis was absent from this month's meeting.) However, on-the-ground advocates, including this blog, effectively stopped confiscations before they could begin. 

The CoC is under pressure since last fall's announcement that HUD fund recipients would be required from now on to report what their organization is doing to de-criminalize homelessness. The storage ban seems to be a "hard to ignore" moment for the Board, resulting in a meeting topic this month dedicated to the issue of "Alternative Solutions to the Criminalization of Homelessness." 

Many services that been long neglected came up, from storage facilities to showers and bathrooms to providing proper discharge aid for homeless people getting out of Broward County Jail. During the hour or so of discussion, several board members raised a point that is severely overlooked when it comes to Fort Lauderdale's meandering commitment to providing homeless services. The Continuum of Care actually doubles as the County's designated homeless advocacy entity, or "local coalition." However, because it is required to report to the County and is subject to Sunshine Law restrictions, they essentially cannot advocate anything to anyone except by passing on their wishes to the Broward County Commission. They essentially cannot even say anything directly, as an entity, to the cities that are criminalizing homelessness in their county.

As one Board Member put it "...when issues require the local designated coalition to take up what almost every coalition across the nation handle, and that's advocacy, that's being able to speak to commissions...on behalf of the homeless...we are not able to do so because of this forum."

In this way, the CoC effectively argues it is obstructing itself from doing its job. The unusual soul searching taking place was followed up by the Board's counsel making an interesting observation; Broward County boards are, in fact, reviewed every 5 years, and the CoC is due for theirs' sometime in the next month or so. 

Does the Broward County Commission need to review its mandate for homeless services to create a entity, distinct from what exists now, to be the County's "local coalition," and handle homeless advocacy work for the disprivileged? A few CoC board members seemed to think so. As one put it, "I cannot in good faith say that we are doing anything about the criminalization of homelessness...the federal government expects us to do something about it."

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