The state of Florida is faced with a serious crisis in which there is no easy solution. The state is currently failing to provide adequate shelter and affordable housing for its rapidly increasing homeless population.
According to the Department of Children and Families' most recent Florida Annual Report on Homeless Conditions in Florida, approximately 67,600 people are homeless on the streets of Florida on any given night. The same report reveals that there are 228 shelters throughout Florida that have a total of 8,561 available beds for homeless people, and an additional 11,122 beds are provided by transitional housing facilities. This means that the state of Florida is currently able to serve less than 30% of its homeless on a temporary basis. Permanent housing opportunities are even harder to come by.
Florida's homeless population includes parents, children, elderly people, veterans and people who suffer from drug, alcohol and mental health problems.
According to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, at the economic boom at the end of the 1990's made many politicians and organizations hopeful that the end of homelessness in America was near. But with the rapid change in the economy for the worse, national leaders are instead predicting a dramatic rise in homelessness, which may be similar to the crisis seen at the end of the 1980's.
Things may be even worse now than in the 1980's, as statistics show that a larger percent of the homeless are families with children. While the state of Florida continues to add homeless programs and additional funding, the demand for shelter and homeless-prevention services continues to increase.
The National Coalition for the Homeless cites two major trends that are responsible for the rapid rise in homelessness over the past 15-20 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. In the United States, a serious lack of affordable housing and the inadequacy of housing assistance programs have made a major contribution to the current housing crisis and the homelessness problem.
In addition, Housing and Welfare Reform authors report that that in today's economy, "Families receiving TANF assistance or working at low-wage jobs are unlikely to be able to rent housing on their own without paying a significant portion of their incomes."
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) operates three major federally-funded programs that provide housing assistance to low-income families: public housing, Section 8 certificates and vouchers, and Section 8 project-based programs. Some states also run small programs providing housing assistance.
Since housing assistance is not an entitlement, there are many more eligible families than families provided assistance, and waiting lists for housing assistance are very long in many areas. Census data indicate that there are 5.3 million unassisted families with "worst case housing needs"; these are families that live in substandard housing or pay over half their income in rent.
Data from the 1995 American Housing Survey indicate that about half of working poor families with children that receive no housing subsidies pay at least half of their income for rent. A mother with two children who works full-time year round at $6 per hour would have to pay over half of her income to rent a two-bedroom apartment at the national median HUD-determined "fair market rent" for metropolitan areas.
Such high housing costs leave low-income families attempting to move into the workforce with little money for the necessities that often accompany employment, such as additional clothing and food costs, child care, and transportation to and from work."
Data from the Florida Department of Community Affairs reveals Florida has been a popular place for those seeking a more favorable environment for many decades. With its mild winters and excellent climate, the state has grown to be the nation's fourth most populous state. This growth has created some problems for Florida and in the 1980's; the state saw a huge rise in its homeless population.
In the 1980's, the state of Florida responded to the growing homeless situation by establishing the Florida Task Force on the Homeless. The task force worked with the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services to recommend a statewide network of locally-based homeless coalitions to organize assistance efforts for the homeless. The 1987 Florida legislature reviewed these recommendations and funded a statewide network of community-based homeless coalitions in 1988.
By the end of the 1990's, there were 20 homeless coalitions throughout the state, mostly in the urban areas, where the problem was greatest. These coalitions have made significant progress in promoting public awareness, coordinating resources and providing assistance for the homeless.
Since the 1980's when homelessness emerged as a social issue, numerous state and national studies have been conducted to determine the extent and nature of homelessness. In 1989, Barry University of Miami conducted a study of homeless conditions in South Florida, and later updated it in 1991. The study originally revealed that there were 9,738 homeless people in South Florida. The results of the 1991 survey showed that that number increased by 15% every year.
1994 study of homeless conditions performed by the Congressional Budget Office revealed that there were 39,500 homeless people in Florida, which was slightly lower than the estimates reported by the Florida homeless coalitions. However, this study did not take into account the migration and immigration factors of those who came to Florida in pursuit of a warmer climate and economic opportunities.
The Barry University study, the estimates of the Florida homeless coalitions and the Congressional Budget findings were all taken into account in the state of Florida's 1995-2000 Consolidated Plan, which revealed that there were 46,000 homeless people in Florida on any given day.
Since then, Florida has made some progress in identifying and addressing the needs of the homeless population.
However, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that there could be at least three times the amount of homeless people than those known to the state and coalition, as the "hidden homeless" are often hard to find because of their lifestyles.
Families with children make up about 31% of Florida's homeless population; single men make up about 50%; and single women comprise about 19%. About 25% of the homeless population in the state is children under the age of 18. New homeless, non-chronic populations that have been homeless for less than a year, make up about 68% of the homeless and long-term homeless account for 32%. The chronic homeless populations tend to have alcohol, drug abuse, mental illness and health problems.
Of the homeless population in Florida, approximately 70% are state residents, and 30% are from other states and countries. Nearly 40% of the homeless suffer from alcoholism or drug abuse problems and 24% are believed to be mentally ill. About 26% have both mental illness and substance abuse problems.
The state of Florida estimates that nearly half of all homeless people that come to local agencies have health care needs, and about 8% of the homeless have AIDS or HIV. Seventeen percent have disabilities.
A whopping 43% of the homeless are employed, most of them either periodically or part-time, although they tend to have low-paying jobs with no benefits. More than 20% of the homeless are veterans and eight percent are elderly people.
Caucasians make up about 55% of the homeless population in Florida, African-Americans constitute 34% and Hispanics make up 9%.
The groups that are at most risks of homelessness are people living in poverty, single parents, the unemployed, the physically and mentally ill, substance abusers, domestic violence victims, runaways, veterans and the elderly.
Causes of Homelessness
According to the 1999 Homeless as a Regional Problem in Central Florida: Analysis and Recommendations report, there are four predominant causes of homelessness.
In Florida, approximately 40% of the population is employed in the service industry. These low-paying service jobs often lack employment stability, pay only minimal wage and offer minimal benefits.
Throughout history, homeless rates increase as the population density of a region becomes more urbanized. As Florida's urbanization increases and the rate of population density per square mile increases, the rate of homelessness will continue to increase.
Lack of affordable housing is one of the most common causes of homelessness. Florida has seen a significant decrease in low-income housing units because of urban renewal and inner-city neighborhood gentrification, as well as a lack of federal funding.
In addition, many of Florida's homeless are suffering from mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems and illnesses. Many are runaways or victims of domestic violence. These humanistic factors are very important when determining the causes of Florida's rapidly rising homelessness rates.
There are many other reasons people become homeless. Loss of employment, long-term illness, substance abuse, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, institutional release and many, many more factors work to create situations where people cannot afford to pay their rent or house payments. Other factors that can cause or prolong homelessness can be attributed to…