• Leaders, community react to United Way cutting funding for homeless shelters


    In what's being described as a historic “philosophical change” to how Central Florida combats homelessness, the United Way is cutting funding for homeless shelters.

    The agencies impacted include:

    • The Coalition for the Homeless 
    • Rescue Outreach Mission in Sanford 
    • Salvation Army in Orlando  

    Community leaders and charitable organizations across Central Florida sent the following statements to Channel 9's Nancy Alvarez

    Statement from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer: 

    "Through the leadership of the Homeless Service Network and the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness our region has followed the national “housing first” model.  This successfully proven approach, prioritizes providing people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible and then provides them with the supportive services that they need including mental health counseling, treatment for addiction, basic medical care and the skills to manage their home. Additionally, this approach provides a more coordinated effort between the region’s existing service providers. We applaud United Way for supporting the regional efforts to finding housing solutions for the homelessness in our community that is proven to be more cost effective and with lasting results."

     --Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

    Statement from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs' office: 

    “Part of our success in impacting homelessness comes from embracing a full range of options, including services, sheltering and housing - particularly important in light of our affordable housing shortage. Together with the United Way and our other funding partners, we're taking great care in implementing a broad approach to the housing first model.”  

    Statement from United Way

    “For more than 75 years, Heart of Florida United Way has been dedicated to serving our community’s most vulnerable populations, and that will never change. In an effort to better align our work with the momentum created by the City, County, Commission on Homelessness and HUD, we will be investing in the Housing First approach. This model is evidence-based and designed to create long-term results for struggling individuals. Our partner agencies impacted by this shift were informed nearly a year ago and have been well aware of this shift. They will continue to work with us to provide a safety net for our neighbors in need. Together we will continue striving to create lasting change that leads to better lives for Central Floridians.”

    Statement from Salvation Army 


    The Salvation Army has known for over a year of the general move by the Heart of Florida United Way to Permanent Supportive Housing and/ or Bridge Housing.  It is true that this shift from the traditional Transition Housing Model will result in a significant reduction in funding, which does pose challenges for us.  We will continue to rely on our faithful benefactors to support those whom we serve.   

    The Salvation Army is constantly involved in discussions with the City and County governments, regarding the homelessness issue, as well as with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. 

    The Housing First Model is primarily geared toward those who are Chronically Homeless and unable to remedy their own situation.  The Chronically Homeless make up approximately 20% of the homeless population in the Orlando Area.  When they are moved into low-income housing, they will require “wrap around” case management services, many for the remainder of their lives.  We often see Chronically Homeless individuals in our Emergency Shelters – which serve the purpose of temporarily keeping them in a safe environment and off the streets. 

    The other 80% of the homeless are what we call “episodically” or “economically” homeless, which is usually the result of a crisis in their lives.  If given the right support system and the time to remedy their personal situation, they can move into affordable housing and become self-sufficient, without the need for ongoing case management.  For this reason, we feel that the Transitional Housing model is still valid.  

    Since June of last year, 65% of those who participated in our program are now living in permanent affordable housing, and 85% of the veterans in this program are now in their own home.  71% increased their overall income through this support system provided for them while at The Salvation Army. 

    In a recent article in the Sentinel, Mayor Jacobs, in speaking of the homeless issue, was quoted as saying, What we’re learning is that it is more difficult than we anticipated.  You put people in housing with the goal that they’re going to rapidly move out and be self-sufficient, but sometimes that’s the case and sometimes it’s not.” 

    The Salvation Army is committed to maintain our Emergency Shelters and Transitional Shelter programs.  But rather than ignoring the benefits of Housing First, we are expanding our services to include services to those who are Chronically Homeless, as well.  

    If The Salvation Army ceased our current programs to the homeless, there would be approximately 200 more homeless people on the streets of our city, including vulnerable children.  We are committed to provide assistance to those who come to us with the need for Emergency Housing as well as Transitional Shelter to assist them in moving to self-sufficiency.          

    Statement from Rescue Outreach Mission:

    Rescue Outreach Mission has been a longtime recipient of funding from United Way, which covers a 1/4 of our emergency shelter operations for single men/women, mother and children, as well as feeding the homeless shelter residents and local community.  This grant cycle covering July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017 provided funding for Rescue Outreach's Opportunities & Hope program (Emergency Shelter Services) in the amount of $95,405 and the Loaves & Fishes program (Serve residents (3 meals per day) and community communal meals (lunch and dinner 5-days per week) in the amount of $18,777.

    This would be a huge impact to our budget. We are diligently seeking other partnerships to fill this financial gap, and prayerful that God will continue sustain the Rescue Outreach Mission for another 30 years.

    Statement from the Coalition for the Homeless

    The loss of funding from United Way is significant. However, we do not have plans to close any programs that rely on this funding. Our focus remains on how best to serve our clients and the community. That includes pursuing new and additional funding sources to help those most in need move toward permanent housing and a more stable life. For 30 years, the Coalition has played a crucial role in serving homeless individuals and families. We share the community’s goal of finding permanent housing for all but also realize that people who are homeless cannot always be immediately housed. We serve many of their interim needs including food, shelter, and case management. The demand for these services remains high, as we operate at full capacity on a daily basis. United Way has been a long-time partner and was forthcoming about this year’s grant process. We will continue working with United Way and other donors to collectively address the needs of our community. 

    -John Hearn, Interim CEO




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