By: Shawna Serig Kelsch
It has long been held that part of the “American Dream” is to have a safe place to call home. But survival paints a different dream for some Americans … the ones who are experiencing
homelessness due to any number of circumstances or are unable to find affordable housing due to lack of inventory.
In Central Florida, a movement to address and eradicate homelessness is doing something about that.
It started in 2013, when the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness began a regional planning initiative to address the issue. Additionally, the regional Continuum of Care hired a new executive director to coordinate with the regional planning initiative. Working with state, local and federal agencies, business leaders and nonprofit organizations, they studied successful models of 10 cities across the United States that have worked to decrease the number of homeless people.
Now, more individuals in Central Florida are finding a place to call home.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has credited cooperation among government, business and nonprofit organizations as the catalyst for this.
One of the nonprofit organizations working with the commission is Ability Housing, a Florida entity with offices in Jacksonville and Orlando that has been providing quality, affordable and safe housing for families and individuals who are homeless or at risk of being homeless since 1992.
In 2015, the commission approached the organization to ask if they would be willing to expand services into Central Florida after review of its successful methodology in identifying, assisting and housing the homeless, those at risk of being homeless and disabled individuals.
According to Kimberlee Riley, Ability Housing regional director for Central Florida, “A study conducted by the commission revealed that leaving a homeless individual on the street costs [taxpayers] over $31,000 annually for emergency medical costs, law enforcement costs and incarceration and court costs. However, providing permanent supportive housing costs just over $10,000 annually, resulting in significant savings to the community.”
Beyond the savings, she continued, there is also improved quality of life for everyone. For example, law enforcement can focus on more serious community issues and wait times can be reduced at hospital emergency rooms.
The organization is currently working on two projects:
- Through a partnership with Orange County, Central Florida Foundation, Florida Hospital and The Wayne Densch Center, Ability Housing will convert a transitional housing program into a high-quality, 77-unit affordable and supportive housing community in Eatonville. The Center currently has approximately 80 residents, and construction is expected to begin in late 2017. Notably, the renovation will be completed “without removing residents from the property,” Riley said.
- Additionally, the organization has agreed to transform a boarded blight on Mercy Drive (just west of downtown) into a 166-unit, high-quality affordable and supportive housing community that will be named Village on Mercy.
POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS
Riley agrees on the necessity for collaboration: “Critical success factors include strong community support across every sector, adding capacity to community with our staff expertise, skill and time, and through education and advocacy at the community level.”
Riley’s background bodes well for the tasks at hand. Her career has spanned employment in government, not-for-profit and business sectors, where she learned the value of collaboration first hand.
“I have a servant’s heart, but I have business acumen for productivity and profitability. I want to help improve the quality of life for all of our neighbors, which will also improve the quality of life for our community through cost savings and efficiency,” she said.
Most days, Riley finds herself running from one community meeting to another across the tri-county area served by Ability Housing. She serves on planning, governance, and other committees and also on the Orlando, Inc. board of directors. She also attends regular meetings of local jurisdictions, such as council and commission meetings, affordable housing advisory committees and housing nance authority meetings, to name a few.
“Creating inclusive communities must be a shared goal for developers, bankers, government leaders, builders… truly, our entire community,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who has been an advocate and community partner in the redevelopment efforts. “Our affordable housing options should look just like our marketplace options, with high- quality design elements and offering a superior quality of life.”
Riley works across all these sectors reinforcing the “Housing First” methodology, a model that advocates quality, stable housing as the first priority for anyone. Secondary issues, such as employment, health issues, credit worthiness, etc., are addressed once housing is secured.
“We help residents address these secondary issues with wraparound services that include case management, access to mental, medical and dental health services, as well as programs in financial literacy, parenting, and workforce development training,” she explained. “We also provide enrichment programs and services for our residents that help them engage with the broader neighborhoods they live in.”
Riley is happy for the challenges that come with the work and looks forward to a day when everyone has a home.
“Getting to know and work alongside all the organizations and individuals, elected officials and business leaders striving to improve quality of life in our community is simply inspiring.”
“A study conducted by the commission revealed that leaving a homeless individual on the street costs [taxpayers] over $31,000 annually for emergency medical costs, law enforcement costs and incarceration and court costs. However, providing permanent supportive housing costs just over $10,000 annually, resulting in significant savings to the community.” For more information visit online at abilityhousing.org.