Thursday, November 30, 2006

EDITORIAL Orlando Sentinel November 30, 2006
Help the homeless
Our position: Communities across Central Florida need to work together on solutions.

Let's be frank: The challenge of finding solutions to the homeless quandary is overwhelming.

There is no "silver bullet," as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has said. But without a clear directive, all those enthusiastic plans about the revitalization of downtown Orlando will crumble.

The framework of solutions begins with the ability to address homelessness as a community, and by establishing coordination among various governments, agencies and church groups within Central Florida. This is not simply an "Orlando problem."

Local advocates estimate that within Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, there are about 7,500 homeless people. Most of the emergency and transitional beds are in Orlando, numbering about 2,200. But in Osceola alone, estimates range between 1,200 and 1,500 people without homes. Most other people without homes are scattered throughout the region, living temporarily in motels, with friends, in cars, or in the woods.

It's an issue that extends well beyond the concentration of indigent men in the downtown area and the hub around Lake Eola, where a dispute continues among city officials and advocates over group feedings. It would better serve our community if both sides could get past that pettiness and look for ways to address root causes -- domestic violence, mental illness, a lack of family structure and financial distress, among others.

Within the framework of a regional approach, a logical step would be the appointment of a point person to establish goals. That person should be independent of all government entities, avoiding conflict-of-interest issues, but should be able to coordinate efforts among various social-service agencies and church groups to avoid duplication of efforts and find a more effective means of reaching out to the homeless.

The buy in may not be an easy sell for neighboring communities and counties. But to echo the sentiments of Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart, each jurisdiction must understand the impact of homelessness on its community -- on health care, public safety, schools, the demand for housing, among other issues.

There have been many well-intentioned efforts by officials to curb homelessness, but not much in the way of substantive action over the years.

This agenda belongs on the laps of many folks. It's far beyond the scope of what Mr. Dyer and city officials can do or have done.

It is much easier to embrace the vision of a downtown renaissance and think of the possibilities. But if this community does not wrap its arms around the homeless and find some solutions, all of Central Florida will suffer beyond the empty seats one may find at a new arena and performing-arts center.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lawmakers have neglected mentally ill

Letter to the Editor (St. Petersburg Times)
Published November 28, 2006

Mentally ill people in jails

Thank you for bringing the plight of this most vulnerable group of people to the attention of everyone. I am the executive director of a nonprofit agency that has provided treatment and rehabilitation since 1988 for these individuals who are currently in jail as a result of their mental illness. These men and women are in desperate need of an advocate as their voices are not being heard.

It would not serve them to jail the head of the state Department of Children and Families. Rather it draws attention away from the ongoing issue, which is the closing of our state mental hospital, G. Pierce Wood in Arcadia. The mentally ill now live in alleys, under bridges and on park benches throughout the state. The closing of hospitals such as this one are in direct relation to the dramatic rise in the homeless population.

The Legislature in its haste to "do something" has created a maelstrom statewide by not providing for the ongoing needs and services that are required to support this population. As a result of legislative inaction for the past several years, we have created local unfunded mandates to provide mental health services in our county jails.

These mentally ill people are not getting better. They will not make the transition back into our communities without treatment, and they will continue to cycle through arrest, incarceration, jail and back to the street, on and on, unless we provide residential settings for them.

When the state's lawmakers cut the funding in 2005 to this population, they created an environment that is dangerous to those individuals and the community.

Sara Romeo, executive director, Tampa Crossroads Inc., Tampa

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Posted on Thu, Nov. 23, 2006

Home for the hungry

Herald Staff Writer
BRADENTON - Jamey-Lee and her little brother, Corbin, were off from school Wednesday and looking forward to today's Thanksgiving holiday.

Jamey-Lee, 7, who started at Ballard Elementary a week ago, spent Wednesday brushing the blond hair of her Barbie doll and showing off her new T-shirt, which showed young girl cartoon characters known as "The Three Amigos."

Corbin, 5, wearing a shirt with tiny, colorful dinosaurs on it, played endlessly with a brown-and-white stuffed bear that, for some reason unknown to everyone but him, he named James.

Melissa McCann, 26, the children's mom, who is six months' pregnant, smiled and took a deep breath.

"I think we have landed," McCann said.

McCann's small family is homeless and moved into the family lodge at The Salvation Army last week.

The Salvation Army provided the Barbie doll, the bear, Corbin's dinosaur shirt, Jamey-Lee's cartoon shirt and the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings that the family will enjoy with 500 to 600 other people today, their mom said.

For most of Manatee County, turkey is expected.

McCann said she no longer takes it for granted.

"I'm so happy that we will have a place to have Thanksgiving," she said. "It's been a tough few months."

The family has been homeless and living out of a suitcase since September, when McCann said she left a situation of domestic abuse that started eight years ago.

Without a car, she has been living in shelters and motels in Michigan, Sarasota and now Bradenton, getting some financial help from her mother in England.

"I can see the childhood is slowly returning to my kids," McCann said. "Corbin's temper fits are decreasing. He has separation anxiety."

McCann is completely estranged from other family members, she said.

"Wrong decisions," explained McCann, when asked to sum up how a pregnant woman with two children ended up homeless. "I am so thankful we are here now, that they took me in. My kids and I had a desperate need for a warm place."

Jamey-Lee is bright and sensitive.

She has to decide what to tell her classmates at Ballard when they start asking her where she lives.

"I think I will say, 'I don't know,' " she said.

She talks in a whisper about the last few months, but brightens up when asked about her interests.

"I love singing, all music, going to fairs, hanging out and talking," she said, proudly.

She also gets frustrated with Corbin, who has suddenly become afraid of the dark, she said.

"But you have to be his big sissy," McCann told her.

Asked what Thanksgiving meant to them, the children blurted out, "Turkey!"

Because people care

Jim McKee owned the Bridge Street Pier Cafe on the fishing pier of Bradenton Beach for 10 years.

Like many others, McKee, 63, was so busy making a living, he gave little thought to those who have no family or who are homeless.

But a few years ago, McKee took a look at his life and decided he needed to give back for the blessings he has had.

He accepted a job as kitchen manager at the Salvation Army last year, a position that has been life-changing, he said.

"I had no idea there was such a homeless problem in this county," McKee said. "I was amazed and I am still amazed."

Salvation Army officials estimate there are between 3,000 and 3,500 homeless people in Manatee County.

McKee had three fellow kitchen workers and 50 volunteers prepare and serve 75 turkeys, mounds of instant mashed potatoes and gravy, pounds of corn bread dressing, heaps of green beans and many pumpkin and cherry pies today to those who otherwise may have no other place to go for the holiday, McKee said.

"I'm older now and about to retire and this is all about giving back," he said. "I love it here. It's the greatest bunch of people I have ever been associated with. All they do is care about other people. They work themselves to death solely to help others."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at or 708-7907.

© 2006 Bradenton Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

From: Thewindisalady on Live Journal

I’m heavily involved with Sarasota Food Not Bombs, and Sarasota homeless rights. Sarasota Food Not Bombs distributes food weekly at a park in downtown Sarasota. The people doing homeless rights work are directly organizing with homeless people, students and community members to plan demonstrations, teach-ins and work on getting the anti-lodging ordinance thrown out. I think it’s really important for New College students to get out more and get involved with the community. I really enjoy organizing with the homeless because they are such a dynamic group of people. People often overlook the problems in the Sarasota community at large because New College is very insular and pretty utopian compared to other places. There are many battles to be fought off campus including the fight against gentrification and unjust laws that target the homeless.

Article published Nov 15, 2006
Homeless agencies feel the pinch
Advocates say recent events make it harder to feed the needy
BRADENTON -- Mary DeLazzer remembers a time when her momma gave bread and cheese and water to the men who rode the rails.

They would come calling nearly every day, and the DeLazzers didn't have much to give. So her momma would scrounge through the cupboard, DeLazzer recalls, and most times the best they could come up with was bread, ice, tapwater and a slice of cheese.

So it is today at Our Daily Bread, where DeLazzer, 75, has spent the better part of two decades feeding the homeless. Like many other soup kitchens and food pantries in Southwest Florida, however, a cascade of events has agencies struggling to keep up with demand.

From Charlotte to Manatee:

An outrageous housing market has priced more and more families out of homes and into transitional living arrangements, such as the dour motels of Tamiami Trail.

Twin homeless ordinances in Sarasota and Bradenton are slowly driving transients to places they had never been before.

A large grocery chain decided to limit perishable items given to agencies.

nA Sarasota soup kitchen that fed thousands each year closed.

To some, the events have created a perfect storm that threatens to cripple local social service agencies on the cusp of the holiday season -- traditionally the time of year when there are more mouths to feed and resources are spread among dozens of organizations.

"There is enough wealth in those counties to keep these agencies alive," said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "This just should not be happening."

The first hit came early this year when Sarasota officials rethought the way it designated homes and businesses in a thriving downtown core. A rezoning initiative means certain businesses -- liquor stores, pawn shops, topless bars, food pantries -- cannot open shop downtown, and one of the area's longest-running soup kitchens felt pressure to get out.

St. Vincent de Paul, the small soup kitchen tucked on Adelia Avenue, was not forced out, because the rezoning affects only new businesses.

Still, St. Vincent de Paul organizers say they felt like they couldn't compete with the resources of one of the country's largest development firms -- Benderson Development Co., which plans a sprawling hotel complex on Main Street and paid nearly $500,000 in April for the soup kitchen's property.

When Benderson offered St. Vincent de Paul $500,000, they took the money, hoping to find a new place downtown. But the group hasn't found a home yet.

And some worry that the city -- dubbed the "meanest in America" for its treatment of the homeless -- has been pushing transients out, as exemplified by an ordinance that makes it a crime to camp on public or private property.

The law, twice ruled unconstitutional and recently upheld by a circuit judge, was followed by a similar measure in Bradenton, where city officials claimed it was a move to "look out for the taxpayers."

To critics, however, the ordinances are an easy way to couch a difficult dilemma, one that pits homeowners versus the homeless. Some say the cities characterized homeless people as drunk, lazy ne'er-do-wells looking for a handout -- and they had to go.

"This assumption is just not true," said Maj. Jack Repass, of The Salvation Army. "These are people who sincerely need help. There is a small population with mental-health problems, or drug and alcohol issues. But most of these people are genuinely down on their luck."

Now, agencies are struggling to feed them. Part of the problem, according to Ana Romillo of the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, is the rising price of just about everything: homes, gas, food, taxes.

Many social service groups are finding children and families, or the working poor, on their doorsteps in need of a break.

"Everything is so expensive," Romillo said. "The rent is up, taxes are up, insurance is up. What are these people to do?"

Making matters worse for soup kitchens such as Our Daily Bread is a decision by Publix Super Markets to prohibit perishable goods from being delivered to agencies. For years, DeLazzer and Robert Eikill, an administrator at the Tamiami Trail facility, could count on fresh fruits and vegetables from local stores.

But a recent decision by Publix changed all of that, Eikill said, and food pantries were cut off from one of their biggest benefactors. Publix did not return phone calls last week seeking comment.

"They don't want the risk of something being contaminated," Eikill said. "But it hurts to see places -- Wal-Mart, schools, hospitals -- to just throw away food. Especially when we need it so bad."

Amid the din of dishwashers and the hustle of kitchen workers, DeLazzer patted a toddler on the head last week and handed the boy a cup of juice. It was a shade before 11 a.m., and three tables were full at Our Daily Bread, which served more than 6,000 meals last month alone.

On this day, the menu included a sandwich, corn, salad and dessert. It's more than the bread and cheese DeLazzer's momma used to serve, but with more mouths coming in each day, she worries where the next meal will come from.

"We'll find it somewhere," she said. "Even if I have to boil a pot of rice and serve that, we'll keep serving these people."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Each year, one week before Thanksgiving, National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. During this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness. If your community has already joined this effort, this guide can serve as an evaluator for past efforts and possibly offer fresh ideas for the future. If this is your first time participating, this guide will explain how your community can get involved!


Organizing events will not seem very substantial if you do not stop to ask: Why is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week so important? Participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week not only brings greater awareness to your community, but also helps to promote the national endeavor to end hunger and homelessness. The plight of those without a home can be both lonely and difficult. Addressing their struggles by organizing and participating in this week may bring greater solidarity and understanding, as well as promote future involvement. Events, such as "One Night Without a Home," help people realize the difficulties that homeless persons daily face. Talk about these issues with your coordinators and discuss what impact such an event might have on your community. It is imperative to dispel myths that label homelessness as someone else's problem or claim that an end to homelessness is impossible.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Disenfranchised homeless

In the flurry of discussion around disenfranchised voters, let us not forget the most disenfranchised in our community, those without homes. This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a time to learn more about our neighbors and friends who do not have a home.

The safety and security of a home is something many of us take for granted. It is the place we put our feet up, our escape from the rest of the world after a hard day. On a more basic level, a home is shelter from the sun, wind, rain and a safe place free from harassment and violence. Without the physical and emotional protection a home provides, life is filled with a different set of struggles. The things many of us take for granted, like a hot shower or knowing when our next meal will be, are only hopes for those without a place to live.

Families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. This year alone, almost 150 local children have had to sleep in a homeless shelter. In addition to children and families, those without homes in our community include domestic violence survivors, veterans, mentally ill individuals, and people suffering from addiction. People experiencing homelessness do not fit one general description. They do not share one profile. But they do share basic needs such as affordable housing, living wages, and health care.

People who become homeless are someone's friend, sister, brother, or child. As a community, we must come together to create solutions to prevent homelessness and to meet the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness.

Adrienne B. Lazeroff

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