Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Stranahan Society Speaks, Part 1

On Friday afternoon, the Homelessness Continuum of Care Board (CoC)  tried something a little different. They held a meeting that focused solely on the alleviation of the woes of Stranahan Park.

Friday's Homelessness CoC meeting took
place in County Commission Chambers
Although much of the CoC's business is done yards away from the largest population of chronically homeless people in Broward County, it is not a frequent topic of discussion for them. In fact, since many only meet once or twice a month and are constrained by Florida's Sunshine State Law, the CoC does not communicate directly with one another in the way one would expect executives from major homeless providers that collaborate together would. Some have staff for that sort of issue, but it remains a problem.

Friday qualified as a well attended CoC assembly with an audience at around 30. Homeless people and homeless advocates spoke about many things, including endemic problems in the HAC system that are well known to the homeless community (shelter representatives were in attendance but mostly silent). Also mentioned were property confiscations, the criminalization of homelessness, and complaints of over-policing. Relatively few homeless service providers or advocates from the Stranahan area were present. Absent was anyone from the Fort Lauderdale Women's Club, or any of the other homeless-bashing residents or business-people that frequented similar City meetings in the past.

Afterwards, CoC Board members addressed most of these issues amongst themselves. Ultimately, the Board chucked any vote (which would have to pass 2 more levels of County Government before having any possible legal authority) to an as-yet unscheduled 2nd meeting of the "Ad Hoc Central Fort Lauderdale Committee."

Several things of interest were discussed by CoC Board Members that should not escape notice.

Of perhaps greatest interest was discussion around the controversial enforcement of Fort Lauderdale's storage ban law - one of the original "homeless hate laws" that this blog was made in resistance to. Most present were in agreement that Fort Lauderdale needs to seriously revise the way in which they are carrying out these enforcements. Commissioner and Board Member Dean Trantalis claimed that this is already in progress, but did not say anything to suggest that these enforcements would stop anytime soon. In a separate comment, he did say that these laws were not working and were a mistake, but said nothing about simply repealing them.

Several others complained specifically about anti-homeless laws. The Board ultimately gave little focus to this issue, and one even suggested that there was nothing at all that they could do. (The Board has in fact been sitting on a letter that they have been intending to send to the Cities of Broward County discouraging them from creating or enforcing homeless hate laws, for about a year.)

Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Lee Feldman was present and apparently communicating with Commissioner Trantalis from the audience. After Feldman left, Trantalis said that he had been told by text by the City Manager that no enforcement actions resulted in anyone's property being thrown out. This is quite simply not true. The City Attorney should certainly be asked that question again sometime.

Representatives of the Broward ACLU and Public Defender's office were also present to register their discontent over how this situation has been handled. CoC Chairman and BSO employee Scott Russell said he would facilitate a meeting between law enforcement and these civil rights attorneys. The CoC largely waxed apologetic about the storage ban, but they still are not doing much about it.

Showers and restrooms were a topic that seemed to have some traction in the form of the Live Fresh Shower Truck program. Hope South Florida suggested that they would be willing to operate this program locally, and Commissioner Trantalis said he thought the City may be interested in paying for it. This would be an incredible investment for the City of Fort Lauderdale, which has not put any significant funding to new homeless services in years. Will the City really decide to spend half a million dollars a year to give homeless people showers while doing everything they can to get rid of the same people?

More or less glossing over the notoriety of our current shelter system, focus went towards the idea of asking the County to support a new homeless shelter in Fort Lauderdale. One Board Member envisioned a full service facility, with mid term and permanent housing, full time food services, and intake and social work specialists. Other board members felt the need to remind everyone that nobody is ever willing to propose a space for such a project and its too unrealistic, which felt a little like they weren't really there to look for solutions at all.

Incredibly, Commissioner Trantalis suggested that the City of Fort Lauderdale would support this initiative. He elaborated that he thinks that the City has learned from its mistakes in creating the anti-homeless laws of 2014 and that they were coming around to discussing alternatives. This would be quite a sea change if there were any merit to it...what few public statements the City has made about the homeless this year have not been encouraging. All sharing ban court proceedings are still dragging on, and will enter their 3rd year in November.

In fact, on the same day the Sun Sentinel reported that the City may put up to $176 million to renovate its parks in downtown. While the potential sales tax funds may also go towards programs like public transportation, that help the homeless, so far there is no indication that any of the money focused towards public parks would be used to create the very services that Friday's CoC meeting was talking about.

We're going to have some more analysis on this some time later in Part 2.

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