Shelter Fallout

After years of doing nothing Dade County now plans to put 500 homeless people under one roof. It won't be in your neighborhood, of course.

But even if some other corporation besides CPH wins the bid, the prospect remains of a large company pursuing private donations from a small number of sources, in competition with agencies that have relied on those contributions for years. "Certainly we're going to be competing for the same limited resources in many things," New Life's Mitchell Wallick acknowledges. "I think it's going to cut into fundraising."

Donna MacDonald, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, fears the competition will drive some homeless organizations out of business. "Many providers, including the smaller ones that actually serve a lot of people informally, are going to be left out of the picture and probably disappear," says MacDonald, "and as result we're going to have a lot of people who might not be homeless because of their assistance, become homeless."

Obviously this prospect increases the pressure on any struggling nonprofit to find a niche in the new scheme of things, as yet a big unknown in most respects. Criticizing Dade's plan, therefore, could be counterproductive. Many observers, including some providers who don't want to disrupt the smooth unfolding of the plan, say the pressure to present a supportive united front has been intense. "The providers can't do much because they're dependent on the county for a lot of their money," says Loren Daniel, director of the Daily Bread Food Bank and a member of the board of the Coalition for the Homeless. "Now with this whole political game everyone's playing, they wonder if they speak out about what they really think and feel, if they'll get any money. There's a real feeling of apathy because they can't say anything and they're afraid of Chapman and Penelas." Chapman and Penelas both say the idea that they've muzzled opposition is absurd. "We have done an incredible job of being inclusive," insists Penelas.

MacDonald, a persistent critic of the plan, is a member of the Homeless Trust. The Miami Coalition for the Homeless, however, is no longer at the heart of the homeless agenda in Dade. One of the coalition's major contributions has been its leadership in the highly competitive process of applying for and administering federal grants; that expertise is still needed, trust members say, but now the trust will oversee the allotment of all, or most, homeless money and will be a sort of clearinghouse for all local funding applications.

The coalition also has been instrumental in helping public and private social service agencies develop homeless programs and in providing technical assistance. As the Dade plan proceeds, however, the trust will rely for much of this work on a consulting company. On October 7 the trust approved a $151,000, fourteen-month contract for Housing and Services Inc. of New York to help with several technical aspects of implementing the plan. Trust executive director Sergio Gonzalez acknowledges the Miami Coalition for the Homeless already does much of the work the consultant is doing, but "they don't have the resources to do as much as we'd like to do in that area."

"We were the only game in town for ten years," MacDonald says. "We have a professional staff with years of experience. Yet the coalition has been left out of the picture in these new developments, and there are reasons for that. Our perspective on things is not always the same as the business or local government perspective."

Plan architects deny they are leaving out the coalition and they point to contributions it can make as Dade's homeless-care system develops, such as continuing its role as a coordinating and networking body with vital contacts to help assess the immediate needs of the homeless. But some make it clear they consider the negative posture of MacDonald and other plan opponents destructive to this unprecedented community-wide effort. Says Patricia Pepper, executive director of Community Partnership for Homeless: "The question has to be asked, What services is the coalition providing today? Maybe the coalition won't survive this upheaval, but when things change, then you have to find a new purpose.

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