Orlando effort would replace ER visits with housing for homeless
When outreach workers begin placing chronically homeless people in free apartments next year, it won't be hard to figure out who makes the list.
The plan to bring enough permanent supportive housing to Orlando to cut the area's chronically homeless population in half will target the relatively small group of people on the streets who have frequent flier status at the area's hospital emergency rooms.
"We absolutely will be targeting those who have the most disabilities, the most mental illness," said Andrae Bailey, CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. "Many of those people are dying on our streets every day."
They're the chronically homeless people who cost taxpayers and hospitals the most, with repeated expensive visits for which they cannot pay. That's one reason Florida Hospital announced Tuesday its pledge of $6 million to address homelessness.
CEO Lars Houmann said Florida Hospital believes in the moral need to care for this core group of chronically homeless people, almost all of whom have mental illness on top of the physical ailments that land them in emergency rooms every few weeks. At the same time, it makes better financial sense to move them into permanent housing with wraparound support services than care for them in the hospital.
"We get them back on their feet and return them right back to the environment that brought them to us in the first place, so it's not that surprising when we see them again and again," Houmann said. "You can't provide the services these people need in an emergency room, you can't provide them in a jail."
The hospital's contribution comes in the form of matching funds, to be coupled with $4 million over the next three years from the city of Orlando and $700,000 in cash and rental assistance from Orange County. More donations from businesses and nonprofits are expected.
Orlando has contracted with the Corporation for Supportive Housing, an organization that helps communities identify homeless people most in need of services and move them into supportive housing. Mayor Buddy Dyer has committed to providing housing for 300 of the most vulnerable homeless people over the next three years.
Florida Hospital's announcement came on Veterans Day, an appropriate choice given the number of homeless veterans.
"Tragically, some of those brave men and women are now living on the streets of downtown Orlando," Dyer said. "We owe it to these veterans to find real solutions and new ways of addressing chronic homelessness."
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs also called for the formation of a new committee under the umbrella of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness that would address homeless families. She's asked child and school advocate Dick Batchelor to lead the committee.