Thursday, July 17, 2008

Local mayors agree to 10-year homeless plan City, Beach to work on decreasing homelessness

Local mayors agree to 10-year homeless plan

City, Beach to work on decreasing homelessness

Publication Date: 07/17/08
Ending homelessness is usually a philanthropic mission.
But at a summit Wednesday night, a federal expert told a group of city and community leaders, homeless advocates and citizens that it can, and should, also be a fiscal one.
Michael German, an Atlanta-based regional coordinator for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, told the crowd of about 150 at the Flagler College Auditorium that the typically cold-hearted, profit-driven private sector could benefit from the warm-hearted work of housing homeless people.
To make his point, German told the story of "Million-Dollar" Murray, who was the subject of a 2006 New Yorker piece that chronicled the problem in Reno, Nev.
Murray Barr, a homeless man, racked up the most expensive medical bill in the state, but all the money spent didn't save him.
"He died on the street," German said.
German and his agency are encouraging municipalities to change the way they approach homelessness to get the ultimate win-win: getting more people off the streets while saving taxpayers money.
They can do that, he said, by developing 10-year plans to deal with the issue and by putting more resources toward chronically homeless people, who represent a small portion of the homeless population -- 10 percent to 20 percent -- but who use about 50 percent of government services.
According to agency statistics, several cities with 10-year plans saw decreases in their chronically homeless populations between 2006 and 2008: Gainesville's dropped by 18 percent, Miami's by 50 percent and Atlanta's by 8 percent.
But, German said, "Without (city leaders') support, it will go nowhere."
He got two more mayors' attention. At the summit, St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles and St. Augustine Beach Mayor Rich O'Brien signed commitments to develop plans for their cities.
Boles is hoping the plan and the data from the agency will convince the "hard-headed" to come on board and get them to "say to themselves, 'You know what? It's cheaper for me to help out than it is for me to turn my head,'" he said.
German also said communities have had success with one-stop centers where the homeless can get housing, food and veterans' and medical services.
St. Francis House Executive Director Renee Morris, who is attempting to bring such a center to St. Johns County, attended the summit and said it will cost about $3 million to construct the building, which would be built on Dobbs Road off State Road 16.
Morris said the organization could use the private-sector support that German was pushing for. So could the roughly 1,500 homeless people in the county who she hopes to serve.
She brought up an unidentified transient man who was found dead in the woods near The St. Augustine Record building off State Road 312.
"It breaks my heart to think he died alone," Morris said, "and we could have helped him."

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