Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Homeless people to tell teens about life on the street:

David Pirtle thought the worst of homeless people. They were bums, derelicts, worthless.

They were lazy, crazy and smelly.

It was a notion he believed as a teen and a young adult.

"Right up until I became homeless," he said.

Now, the Washington, D.C., man shares his story with youths across the country in the hopes of breaking down stereotypes and putting an end to violence against homeless people.

The message is coming to a city near you.

The National Coalition for the Homeless is creating up to a dozen local speakers' bureaus in Florida cities this fall. Daytona Beach and Orlando are among them.

The effort began in the early 1990s when a "Faces of Homelessness" speakers bureau was established in Washington. Small panels of people who have been or still are homeless speak at high schools, colleges and youth groups and share their experiences on the street.

That group travels across the country, and a handful of other bureaus have popped up in cities. But this is the first time the coalition is targeting an entire state.

"Florida is one of the meanest states for the homeless," said Michael O'Neill, head of the Washington-based bureau.

Florida has experienced more attacks against the homeless than any other state, according to the coalition. Statistics show eight homeless people died here in 2006 as a result of attacks, mostly at the hands of young people.

Groups try to stop attacks

In 2005, Michael Roberts was killed in the woods of Holly Hill when four teens repeatedly beat him with sticks, fists and logs. Earlier this year, John D'Amico suffered lifelong injuries when a cinderblock was smashed into his face in Daytona Beach during an attack by a 17-year-old and two 10-year-olds, who are thought to be the youngest attackers of the homeless.

Organizers also say Florida has a record of criminalizing homelessness by enacting policies that target the group.

The Orlando City Council last year passed an ordinance that prohibits groups from feeding the homeless on city property downtown without a permit. Each group can get two permits a year.

"When cities debate, pass and support such laws, it gives the impression that homeless people are the scum of the Earth," said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "The city wants to get rid of them, so young people think they'll do it."

His organization will coordinate with local homeless coalitions and assistance groups to set up the panels of speakers, who will receive a small honorarium for their time. They should be in the schools by November.

George Crossley president of the Central Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, welcomes the speakers.

"I am all for anything that will cause young people to stop thinking about homeless people as worthless," he said. "I think that is some education that's much needed."

Raymond Adkins has been homeless for seven years. He thinks having homeless people go into the schools would debunk stereotypes and show teens what it's really like to live on the streets.

"It would show the kids to not mistreat the homeless," he said outside the Homeless Assistance Center in Daytona Beach, where meals are served each afternoon. Adkins, who lost his home and business after a "nasty divorce" and also served time in prison, said he would be willing to share his story. "It's rough out here."

Daniel Hargett, who is passing through Daytona Beach on his way back to Ohio, said it would probably be better to make the teens hit the streets with the homeless.

"Take all the kids that throw the rocks and put them on the streets with [the homeless] . . . and see how they live," he said. "They wouldn't make it one day without their mommy."

Barbara Burns, the sister of Michael Roberts, already shares her brother's story with youth groups and told the coalition she would participate in a panel discussion. Her hope is that the speakers will be able to motivate teens to become activists for the homeless.

"It just starts with one," she said. "Then it just carries on over."


Pirtle, who lived on the streets for three years, already is seeing change by telling his story.

He had a "normal" life and worked as a restaurant manager in Phoenix until he began experiencing symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, a type of schizophrenia. His unexplained actions caused him to lose his job and his apartment, and he started hopping trains east.

He slept on park benches, rummaged for food in garbage and stayed in abandoned houses before heading to Washington, where he stayed in a shelter.

"I remember the very first night -- it was earth-shattering," Pirtle said. "It's a completely other world when you're standing outside in the middle of the night and you realize you have no place to go."

He began speaking to teens last fall and said it's amazing to see teens change their attitudes and get out in the community to help the homeless.

"No matter what you think about people who are homeless, you are wrong," he said.

by Kristen Reed, Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer August 27, 2007

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta (FHLBank Atlanta) will award $4.2 million in Affordable Housing Program (AHP) grants and subsidies to help fund 355 single-family and multifamily housing units affordable to lower-income residents in communities throughout Florida.
Ten local developers, in partnership with FHLBank Atlanta's member institutions, will use individual grants -- ranging from $108,000 to $500,000 -- as well as low-cost loans to develop affordable housing in Arcadia, Avon Park, Dania Beach, Fort Myers, Fort Walton Beach, Miami, Naples, Pensacola, Sarasota, and St. Johns County.
In Pensacola, SunTrust Bank and the Wakulla County Senior Citizens Council will use a $1.8 million AHP subsidized loan to help build Englewood Senior Apartments, an $11.9 million, 92-unit apartment community for low-income elderly renters. Other winning projects include a new $8.3 million rental apartment complex in hurricane-impacted Fort Myers and Puppy Park, a mixed- income subdivision of 71 townhomes and condominiums in Sarasota developed by Habitat for Humanity of Sarasota in partnership with Bank of Commerce.
"Through AHP, developers can tap into the financial resources of local lenders like the Bank of Commerce in Sarasota or regional institutions such as SunTrust to bring affordable rental and homeownership choices to Florida's communities," said Richard Dorfman, FHLBank Atlanta president and CEO.
Awards announced today are part of $21.2 million in grants and subsidies FHLBank Atlanta recently awarded to 10 states and the District of Columbia to create or preserve more than 2,000 units of affordable housing. Each year, FHLBank Atlanta sets aside 10 percent of net income to fund the Affordable Housing Program. Since 1990, FHLBank Atlanta has contributed more than $346.7 million in AHP funds to develop 58,871 housing units and to provide down-payment assistance to more than 6,809 families.
AHP is a competitive award program that provides funds to help develop single-family and multifamily housing for very low- to moderate-income households. FHLBank Atlanta generally grants AHP awards twice a year to member financial institutions and their community housing partners. For the complete list of winners, visit
About FHLBank Atlanta
FHLBank Atlanta is a financial services organization that provides low- cost funding, community development grants, and other banking services to more than 1,200 financial institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. FHLBank Atlanta is one of 12 district banks in the Federal Home Loan Bank System, which since 1990 has contributed more than $2 billion to affordable housing development in the United States.
Some of the statements made in this press release may be "forward-looking statements," which include statements with respect to FHLBank Atlanta's plans, objectives, expectations, intentions, and future performance, and involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, many of which may be beyond FHLBank Atlanta's control, and which may cause FHLBank Atlanta's actual performance or achievements to be materially different from the future performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements may not be realized due to a variety of factors, including legislative and regulatory changes; political, national and world events; and adverse developments or events affecting or involving other FHLBanks or the FHLBank System in general. Additional factors that might cause FHLBank Atlanta's performance or achievements to differ from these forward-looking statements are provided in detail in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, available at
AHP 2007 Round I Winners FLORIDA Habitat for Humanity of Broward Dania Beach, FL Member: Regent Bank Sponsor: Habitat for Humanity of Broward Grant: $108,000 for 18 units AHP funds will be used to construct 18, three- and four-bedroom single- family Habitat for Humanity homes for lower-income families in Dania Beach. County wide St. Johns County, FL Member: Branch Banking and Trust Company Sponsor: Habitat for Humanity - St. Johns County Grant: $150,000 for 15 units AHP funds will be used to build 15 single-family homes for very low-income families in St. Johns County. St. John Village Apartments Miami, FL Member: Regions Bank Sponsor: St. John Community Development Corporation Grant: $160,000 for 16 units St. John Community Development Corporation will use AHP funds to renovate St. John Village Apartments, a 16-unit multifamily complex in Miami targeted to residents earning below 50 percent of the area median income. Arcadia PHD Rehab II Arcadia, FL Member: RBC Centura Bank Sponsor: Arcadia Housing Authority Grant: $400,000 for 20 units AHP funds will be used to renovate 20 public housing rental units in hurricane-impacted Arcadia. The units will be targeted to very low- and low-income families. Puppy Park, Phase IA Sarasota, FL Member: The Bank of Commerce Sponsor: Habitat for Humanity Sarasota, Inc. Grant: $497,000 for 71 units Habitat for Humanity of Sarasota will use AHP funds to construct 71 multifamily units for residents earning 70 percent or less than the area median income in Sarasota. When completed the proposed Puppy Park development will include 215 one-, two, three-, and four-bedroom townhomes and condominiums designed with the principles of new urbanism by world renowned architect, Carl Abbott. Englewood Senior Apartments Pensacola, FL Member: SunTrust Bank Sponsor: Wakulla County Senior Citizens Council Subsidy: $1,838,410 for 92 units AHP funds will be used to develop Englewood Senior Apartments, a 92-unit rental development targeted to very-low income seniors in hurricane- impacted Pensacola. Maple Crest Apartments Fort Myers, FL Member: SunTrust Bank Sponsor: Affordable Housing Solutions for Florida, Inc. Grant: $250,000 for 59 units Subsidy: $1,900,000 AHP funds will be used to construct Maple Crest Apartments, a 59-unit rental development targeted to very low- and low-income residents in hurricane-impacted Fort Myers. Cirrus Pointe I Naples, FL Member: Branch Banking and Trust Company Sponsor: Cirrus Pointe Partners, LLC Grant: $500,000 for 16 units AHP funds will be used to help 16 very low- and low-income first-time homebuyers purchase a three-bedroom condominium unit in the Cirrus Point I development in Naples. Ridgedale Rehab Avon Park, FL Member: SunTrust Bank Sponsor: Avon Park Housing Development Corporation Grant: $500,000 for 36 units AHP funds will be used to acquire and renovate a 36-unit multifamily development in Avon Park. Units will be targeted to households earning at or below 50 percent of the area median income. Harbour Place Apartments Fort Walton Beach, FL Member: Branch Banking and Trust Company Sponsor: Okaloosa Community Development Corporation Grant: $500,000 for 12 units AHP funds will be used to help construct Harbour Place, a 12-unit rental development for formerly homeless and lower-income households in Fort Walton Beach.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Transient victims are often nameless as well as homeless:

Venus Martinez has a name in death because she had been arrested when she was alive. Other homeless die unrecalled and unrecorded.

The 29-year-old woman had no identification when her body was found late Sunday near Interstate 4 in Orlando. But police had her fingerprints from past charges, including a July 11 arrest for prostitution and possession of drug paraphernalia.

When the homeless die in abandoned buildings, from violent crime or in accidents, a police record could be the only way to determine who they are.

"Without a name, without ID, they're a marginally subhuman population," said James Wright, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida.

Drivers licenses, Social Security cards and military identification are among the first things to be stolen or lost when a person hits the streets. Without it, the homeless can't get full-time jobs, stable housing -- or even a name on a death report.

"Every Monday I get calls from code enforcement or law enforcement, looking for help in identifying someone they found over the weekend," said Nancy Martinez, a senior outreach worker in Orlando with the Health Care Center for the Homeless.

Martinez, who is not related to Venus Martinez, comes into contact with many homeless people on the street and in camps. She said more homeless seem to be dying from being run over by cars, a major fear of transients.

'The driver never stopped'

"A few months ago, one of my clients was hit by a car, and I couldn't even identify him at first because of the tire marks on his face," she said. "The driver never stopped. The car just kept going."

Police records make identifying victims easier, as does help from other homeless people who knew them, said Orlando police Sgt. Roger Brennan, the department's homicide-unit supervisor.

But closing cases can be difficult because witnesses, who usually are other transients, move from one place to another without telling police or anyone else.

"Transient witnesses who leave no phone number or name are extremely difficult to locate so they can testify in court. That usually delays cases," Brennan said.

One of the best resources for identifying the homeless is the local media.

"We get most of our tips after people read about it in the paper or watch something on television," Brennan said.

Questions of identity come up regularly. Orange County spent $115,000 to give pauper's burials to 301 people during the 2005-06 budget year. And 231 unclaimed bodies have been buried in two county cemeteries so far this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

"We have some John Does and some Jane Does out there," said Pete Clarke, deputy director of the county's department of health and family services. "If we have a name, we put a little plaque in the ground."

August Felix has a plaque at his grave. The 54-year-old man died in May 2006 after five teens beat him to death for sport. He was identified because he had a record for trespassing.

"We're pretty much lost while we're alive," said John, a transient who goes by only his first name and fears dying alone and nameless. "Only other homeless people know me, and they would not tell police who I was if anything bad happened to me."

Even if a homeless acquaintance can provide information, as at least one did for Venus Martinez, transients often know each other by only first names or nicknames.

Dennis Wayne Pickett, 47, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in January and carried no identification. Friends who also are homeless helped police identify him and his dog Gloria, who also died in the accident.

But Ernest, another homeless man who uses only his first name, figures that no one would care if he were killed. He has no identification and no family.

"I mean, it ends here if I die," Ernest said. "I don't think anyone could even ID me."

Police seek killer

Now that investigators have identified Venus Martinez, the remaining job is to determine who killed her.

Originally from New York, Martinez had arrests locally dating from 2002. An October 2004 arrest for marijuana possession shows she had a home in Orlando. Two months later, she was listed as homeless when she was picked up on a warrant for theft.

To Nancy Martinez at the Health Care Center for the Homeless, the young woman was someone afraid of leaving the streets.

Their paths crossed just a few months ago, when Nancy Martinez was talking to homeless gathered at Compassion Corner in downtown Orlando about getting health care and other help.

Venus Martinez's boyfriend, whose name was not available Tuesday, wanted to be helped. Through the center, he got into a detox program and was given a ticket to return to his family out of state.

He wanted Venus to come with him, but she wasn't ready.

"He occasionally will call and check in and is doing wonderfully," Nancy Martinez said. "But every time, he asks if I've seen Venus and if we could help her."

"The biggest thing is, because you're homeless, no one cares," she added. "Her boyfriend cared. He wanted her to come home to him. He was in love with her."

By April Hunt who can be reached at or 407-420-6269, and Walter Pacheco who can be reached at 407-420-6262 or

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