Miami Homeless Essay

Length: 5 pages Sources: 6 Subject: Sociology Type: Essay Paper: #24319113 Related Topics: Urban Sociology, Abusive Relationships, Crusades, Charity
Excerpt from Essay :

Homelessness

Hearing the story about the 90-year-old being arrested in Fort Lauderdale for feeding the homeless had me thinking that South Florida, with its warm weather, probably has a significant homeless issue. So I decided to look at the homelessness situation in Miami. As it turns out, Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami have an interesting situation with respect to homelessness. In some ways, they seem to have similar views to Fort Lauderdale with respect to criminalizing the homeless, but they are also working to eliminate homelessness in their community. For me, this makes for an interesting social and public policy case study.

Causes of Homelessness

There is a reasonably good supply of affordable housing in Miami, but as the video about Toronto shows, the availability of housing is not usually the cause of homelessness. Many homeless in the Toronto video originally had homes that they owned, but either by way of addiction or by way of injury were unable to continue working, and therefore were unable to continue making payments on those homes. Thus, they all entered into a downward spiral. One of the interesting things about the Toronto video, one that would seem to be corroborated in Miami as well, is that many of the homeless are older individuals -- middle aged -- and they did not start out life homeless but ended up as homeless in their later years.

Each individual homeless person has their own story, however, and that is one of the reasons why homelessness is so difficult to pin down a cause for and a solution to. McLay (2014) talks with a women who has two young children -- her story is not revealed but it must be different than those of the people in Toronto. Mental illness has also been identified as a cause of homelessness, as the mentally ill are unable to look after themselves but often do not receive the care that they need.

Camillus House, a shelter in Miami-Dade County, notes that there are over 1300 people living on the street in the county and that they end up there for a variety reasons. Addiction and mental illness are two of them, but so is domestic violence (women fleeing abusive relationships) and poverty-related issues like the decline of public assistance, fewer job opportunities at the low end, and a lack of affordable health care. Families that struggle to pay for medical care for themselves or a family member often begin a downward spiral into homelessness (Camillus House, 2014).

There are different types of homeless, including the chronically homeless and the temporarily homeless. The study in Miami is mostly about the chronically homeless, and the Camillus House number is specifically for those who are sleeping on the street, as opposed to in shelters. There are probably fewer government shelters in Miami than there are in a place like Toronto, because homeless people don't freeze to death in a Miami winter. It is also for that reason that many of the county's homeless have drifted there from other parts of the country. An estimated 8.7% of the nation's homeless live in Florida, and the state has the third-highest rate of unsheltered persons, both factors that can reasonably be extrapolated to Miami-Dade County (Nazworth, 2013).

Demographically, the number of homeless in Miami-Dade County is around 3700, and this number is declining, having peaked at over 4500 in 2008 at the outset of the Great Recession (Nazworth, 2013). This aligns with a spike in foreclosure rates during this period (NCH, 2009).

Men comprise two-thirds of the homeless population. Most homeless are working adult age, but 17.8% are minors. Using figures that take a broader definition of homeless, Nazworth (2013) estimates that there are 5700 homeless children in Miami-Dade County. They are particularly at risk. One survey indicated that homeless teens turn to prostitution within 48 hours of becoming homeless, having no other access to money (Gregerson, 2014).

...

There is an over-representation of African-Americans among the homeless, at over 36% statewide. The statewide figures for the number of Hispanic homeless cannot be realistically extrapolated to Miami-Dade County because of the demographic differences between the county and the state. It is worth noting that there has been an increase in the number of military veterans among the homeless in Florida (Nazworth, 2013). This runs against the national trend of declining numbers of unsheltered veterans (Henry et al., 2013).

Around a third each suffer from physical disability, substance abuse and mental illness, the three main causes of homelessness. Most homeless also have been homeless more than once, which may have influenced their decision to situate in South Florida, where at least the weather is not a risk.

Public Response

There are some charitable agencies that exist to serve the needs of the homeless in Miami-Dade County. Particular attention is paid to women and children, for example. There are fewer shelters available because of the weather issue, but this is beneficial because it allows resources to be dedicated to getting people out of homelessness. The charities that exist, however, are ill-equipped to deal with some of the addiction and mental illness issues that plague the homeless community in South Florida. The government, as part of a recent campaign to end homelessness, has invested $40 million recently to increase shelter capacity (RT, 2014)

The City of Miami has struggled to create effective public policy on homelessness. At one point, the city encouraged the arrest of homeless people for relatively minor offenses. When that plan ran into opposition from the ACLU and from homeless advocates, the City agreed not to arrest homeless people for minor transgression in 1998. In 2013, however, the City floated the idea of reneging on this agreement (RT, 2014).

After this controversy, the City was able to negotiate a deal with the ACLU to avoid legal action. The deal, it has been criticized, waters down some of the rights homeless gained with the 1998 agreement. While the City and county have been providing more funding in an attempt to eliminate homelessness in Miami, there are around 500 chronic homeless who resist attempts to help them, and pose a significant problem for both the governments and the charities who are trying to end homelessness (Rabin, 2014).

The County has found funds to help provide additional housing for many chronically homeless, including veterans. This move comes in cooperation with the federal government, which is pushing to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and chronic homelessness by 2016. This has given rise to optimism that homelessness in Miami-Dade County can be eliminated in the near future, something that would have been unthinkable not too long ago (Book, 2014).

Conclusions

What the Miami-Dade experience shows is that with enough funding and a key deadline, it is possible for governments to address homelessness. Both the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have put more money towards addressing chronic homeless in recent years and the results are starting to show. They might not be able to end homelessness, because of how many forms it takes and the fact that new people become homeless every day, but they do appear more determined, and this comes despite the fact that some rights have been take away from the homeless in Miami.

The governments are still working with charities and shelters who are familiar with the homeless situation, as a means of generating better solutions and directing funding more appropriately. The numbers of homeless have been declining steadily. The next big challenge will be to deal with the homeless children, many of whom live as temporary homeless, or in some form of temporary housing. Less visible, but just as vulnerable, this population also demands the attention of authorities going forward. If Miami can succeed, however, despite having a disproportionately high number of homeless, it would be an achievement, and might actually provide an example for other places. Their use of teams to go to the streets to help treat the mentally ill is one of the key success factors, and the creation of a new Mental Health Diversion Facility is instrumental to the sustainability of the anti-homelessness crusade.

References

Book, R. (2014). End of homelessness in Miami-Dade in sight. Miami Herald. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article3564875.html

Camillus House (2014). What causes homelessness? Camillus House. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://www.camillus.org/about-us/what-causes-homelessness/

Gregerson, A. (2014). Homeless presents numerous problems for South Florida. University of Miami. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://students.com.miami.edu/netreporting/?page_id=1632

Henry, M., Cortes, A., Morrs, S. (2013). The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. U.S. Dept. Of Housing and Urban Development.

McLay, B. (2014). What I learned after taking a homeless mother grocery shopping. In possession of the author.

Nazworth, S. (2013). Council on Homelessness Report 2013. Council on Homelessness. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/homelessness/docs/2013CouncilReport.pdf

NCH. (2009). Why are people homeless? National Coalition for the Homeless.

Rabin, C. (2014). Miami approves settlement that would water down homeless rights. Miami Herald. Retrieved November 20,…

Sources Used in Documents:

References

Book, R. (2014). End of homelessness in Miami-Dade in sight. Miami Herald. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article3564875.html

Camillus House (2014). What causes homelessness? Camillus House. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://www.camillus.org/about-us/what-causes-homelessness/

Gregerson, A. (2014). Homeless presents numerous problems for South Florida. University of Miami. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://students.com.miami.edu/netreporting/?page_id=1632

Henry, M., Cortes, A., Morrs, S. (2013). The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. U.S. Dept. Of Housing and Urban Development.
Nazworth, S. (2013). Council on Homelessness Report 2013. Council on Homelessness. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/homelessness/docs/2013CouncilReport.pdf
Rabin, C. (2014). Miami approves settlement that would water down homeless rights. Miami Herald. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1959084.html
RT. (2014). . Miami looks to criminalize homelessness. RT.com. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from http://rt.com/usa/miami-criminalize-homeless-446/


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