It was all in honor of Dan Quayle, back in February 1991, when he was still vice president. Drivers down Biscayne Boulevard slowed to an irritated halt while a few dozen people crossed the street, back and forth from the I-395 overpass to Bicentennial Park, like a disoriented trail of ants. Most were men in oddly matched and ill-fitting clothing that was obviously donated. They pushed shopping carts and lugged plastic garbage bags. Police stopped traffic to let them cross.
Quayle was on an official visit to Miami. One of his scheduled appearances was at the Omni International Hotel just a few blocks north of the I-395 overpass. The Omni rises high above a convergence of extremes, where Miami's disparate degrees of prosperity and culture and sensibility meet but rarely mix. To the east the Venetian Causeway runs across verdant islands of wealth to Miami Beach; next door are headquarters of the Miami Herald and its powerful parent corporation, Knight-Ridder Inc., with the Port of Miami and downtown skyscrapers spreading out farther south. To the west, views from the Omni's windows rest on boarded-up, graffiti-riddled buildings, tattered nests of homeless people, jobless men congregated on street corners.
Quayle's visit came as Miami officials were looking with an uncomfortable mixture of embarrassment, frustration, and denial upon the city's growing homeless population, perhaps most visibly represented by the squatters under I-395. A few years earlier the city commission had made an unsuccessful attempt to outlaw sleeping in public. Police had made sweeps of homeless encampments and burned belongings. After that attracted negative attention, they tried kicking people out of parks from sundown to sunrise, hauling off any possessions left behind. Circuit Judge Henry Ferro proposed bringing a decommissioned, well-appointed naval warship to Biscayne Bay to provide lodging for the homeless. Other civic leaders advanced plans to bus all the homeless north to a rural area and teach them how to farm, or to send them to Hialeah warehouses, the Orange Bowl, or Bobby Maduro Stadium. None of which prevented legions of panhandling, window-washing, public-sleeping homeless people from becoming a worsening headache for local politicians and business leaders.
And there was that federal lawsuit hanging over their heads. At the end of 1988, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against the City of Miami, seeking to establish a legal right for people without other recourse to live unmolested in public places. Both the city and Dade County had officially declared a "homeless emergency." Then, as now, lodgings available for homeless people in Miami didn't begin to meet the need. It wasn't until the late Eighties that any county money went to programs for the homeless, although Dade has long offered emergency housing. Federal funding for low-income housing, a lack of which is blamed as one of the myriad causes of homelessness, had dried up almost entirely during the Reaganomics of the Eighties and was still hard to come by in the thousand-points-of-light Bush years.
Miami Heat vs. Atlanta Hawks
TicketsSun., Oct. 1, 6:00pm
UberTailGate: Hard Rock Stadium Dolphins v Titans
TicketsSun., Oct. 8, 1:00pm
Miami Dolphins vs. Tennessee Titans
TicketsSun., Oct. 8, 1:00pm
Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets
TicketsMon., Oct. 9, 7:30pm
Miami Heat vs. Washington Wizards
TicketsWed., Oct. 11, 7:30pm
Still, it wouldn't do for the eyes of the vice president to be assaulted by the sight of ragged folks sprawled on mattresses no more than ten or twenty yards from where his motorcade would pass. So on that sunny February morning in 1991, a couple of Miami Police Department patrol cars pulled up to the homeless settlements under the interstate nearest Biscayne Boulevard. "They said we had to go," remembers Chris, one of those rousted. "They wanted us gone by that afternoon. I moved back into Bicentennial Park across the street. Oh yeah, it was moving day. I had boxes of stuff, and it took me about three trips." He sighs. Chris, 35 years old, moves among homeless encampments, small and large, all over town. "Later that afternoon," Chris continues with a giggle, "I was at the front of the park and I saw the entourage. We saw all these cars and the police escort and we were saying, 'Now who is this?' Later we found out."
Two and a half years later, Dan Quayle practices his golf swing, Chris is still drifting, and homeless people still live under I-395, although the number has declined markedly in recent months, thanks to a relocation project funded by the state, the county, and several municipalities. In fact, Dade County's homeless population, now estimated to range from 6000 to 10,000 and swollen by Hurricane Andrew, is as visible as ever. But on a far less obvious and more fundamental level, things have changed drastically on the Dade County homeless front.
In late July, the county commission approved a ten-million-dollar-a-year plan to get the homeless off the streets and keep them off, and a new tax to help pay for it, making Dade County the first local government in the nation to dedicate a source of funds to homeless programs. The plan should begin to materialize early next year in the form of a large "homeless assistance center," the first of three anticipated 24-hour shelters, each housing 300 to 500 people and costing about two million dollars to construct and almost one million to operate annually. Some existing homeless services are to be expanded, too, and more permanent housing developed.
The ambitious projects ahead are in many ways realizations of goals long held by the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, for a decade the county's most insistent and active advocate for the homeless. But the coalition, highly critical of some aspects of the county's homeless plan, will play only a marginal role in its implementation. Now that this complex and emotional issue is drawing more attention and money than it ever has before in Dade County, the balance of influence over homeless policy has shifted from the traditional homeless advocates to savvy political and business leaders. Not everyone is happy about that, but few deny that those political and business leaders were largely responsible for directing attention and money to Dade in the first place.
Right now a controversy rages, away from the public eye, over the pros and cons of the proposed shelters and over how the loosely worded plan should be enacted. Proponents promise Dade County's homeless program will shine forth as a national model; opponents warn it's an invitation to disaster.
Many call Dade County's homeless plan a major miracle. For one thing, it's not often a county commission will happily vote to tax its constituents. And a tax to aid the homeless is unprecedented. "This is a very innovative way for a community to raise money to address a serious issue," says Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty in Washington, D.C. "It's a novel approach, and a first as far as I know." The Dade County food and beverage tax, which went into effect October 1, will increase diners' tabs by one percent in restaurants that earn at least $400,000 yearly, although many restaurants will be exempted. Financial planners estimate the tax will raise some $7.5 million annually; after the first year, fifteen percent of the proceeds will be diverted to domestic-violence programs.
Also miraculous is the degree of cooperation among the nineteen people with divergent interests and agendas who hammered out the plan over six combative weeks this past May and June. Instead of turning it all over to the local government to administer, the county commission created a Homeless Trust, an autonomous board with 27 members representing business, religious, governmental, homeless advocacy, and social service interests. County Commissioner Alex Penelas, chairman of the commission's Housing and Homeless Committee, is co-chair of the trust along with attorney L. Grant "Jack" Peeples; Penelas's former chief of staff Sergio Gonzalez, a highly regarded young lawyer with a few months' experience in homeless issues, was hired as the trust's $69,000-per-year executive director. Gonzalez's offices and half of his two-person staff are on loan from the county; his and his administrative assistant's salaries come from the food and beverage tax proceeds.
By early December the trust will have awarded a five-year contract to a nonprofit agency to construct and operate at least one of the three proposed homeless assistance centers. The agency also will have to raise about three million dollars per year from private and public sources, because the tax revenues aren't expected to cover the cost of the entire plan. While the first homeless assistance center is taking shape, some of the private organizations now serving Dade's homeless will split more than three million dollars to expand existing programs.
Nevertheless, many workers in those organizations, who struggle daily to get by on uneven and inadequate grants and donations, have deep misgivings about such an ambitious project predicated on massive shelters. "It bespeaks a denial of reality about homelessness at the grassroots," according to Warner Hutchinson, associate director of the United Protestant Appeal in Miami. "We all sense this and we don't know what to do about it. We're caught wanting the money and at the same time acknowledging the futility of what it's going to accomplish."
Over the past decade, those who work with and study homeless people have learned there's no one thing that puts them on the street. Poverty, job loss, drug and alcohol abuse, medical problems, mental illness, or any combination thereof are the most prevalent reasons. Many cities also have learned the hard way that the initial step of getting the homeless off the streets has little to do with solving the problem of homelessness. For example, the vast armories and seedy hotels into which New York City began moving its homeless during the early Eighties offered shelter but didn't address the causes of homelessness. As the numbers of homeless people grew, the shelters became a self-perpetuating bureaucracy into which the city poured more and more money. Crime, disease, and drug addiction spread, virtually unchecked by overwhelmed social service institutions.
By the late Eighties, homeless shelters were overflowing in New York and in other cities grappling with the problem. And inevitably the thinking about homeless programs began to shift from larger to smaller, from getting as many people as possible off the streets at night to solving the individual problems that made them homeless. Now those who work with the homeless envision a unified process, called a "continuum of care," that addresses an individual's or family's broader needs and ideally leads to an independent life in permanent housing.
While many cities now have abandoned the warehouse approach to homelessness, they also are struggling to undo past mistakes, to dismantle entrenched, unworkable institutions, and to create radically new systems. Miami and Dade County, on the other hand, have nothing to dismantle. "Miami really has been in a unique position, because it doesn't have a lot of baggage around this issue in terms of existing programs," says Nan Roman, vice president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C. "It can look at all the programs around the country and decide what it wants to do."
As things have worked out, what Miami wants to do is very close to what Alvah Chapman wants to do. The venerable community leader and former chairman of Knight-Ridder played an influential role --along with Herald publisher Dave Lawrence and construction magnate Armando Codina -- in a project two years ago that resulted in clearance of the homeless under I-395 from Biscayne to NE Second Avenue. The county moved trailer offices into the area to oversee the relocation, and most of the street people were put up in motel rooms, for which the county paid a subsidy to the owners. But money ran out after several months, and most of the homeless were back on the street. Not in their former encampment, though, which had been fenced off.
The project was one of two partially successful attempts to clear the Mud Flats, as the homeless encampments under I-395 are known. (The more recent relocation effort is the third.) It was launched shortly after the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce introduced its own long-term homeless plan after two years of work. The document, which contained many elements later incorporated into the county's new plan, never got off the shelf, at least partly due to bitter divisions and power struggles among the various factions involved. Many alliances were forged during this time that would prove instrumental in the eventual formation and administration of the current plan. One of interest: the close association among Chapman, lawyer Anita Bock, and the state's liaison with Dade County for homeless issues, Patricia Pepper. Bock participated in the Chamber's homeless plan and was the principal author of the subsequent I-395 cleanup, for which she was both vehemently criticized and praised. Today Bock is acting regional director of the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and is a member of the Homeless Trust.
In early 1992 Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez turned to Jack Peeples, a prominent lawyer and close friend of Gov. Lawton Chiles, for help in persuading the governor to put the force of his office behind efforts to find a solution to Dade's homeless problem. At the time, the county was still moving people out from under I-395, but money was running out, and the state Department of Community Affairs insisted an attempt be made to unite Dade's factions behind a long-range homeless program. Chiles appointed a commission to do that and asked Alvah Chapman to chair the panel. Knowing he would be racing into a treacherous political slalom course, however, Chapman wanted a pledge that the body's eventual recommendations would be endorsed and supported by the mayors and managers of both Miami and Metro-Dade. He got it. He also saw to it that the majority of the commission were friends and associates, including Dave Lawrence; Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, president of Barry University; Judge Henry Ferro; attorney Charles Schuette, and Dr. Douglas Harris. "We needed someone of impeccable standing to lead this effort, someone who would be very hard to kill off," says Pepper, at the time assigned by the state Department of Community Affairs to work with Dade leaders on homeless issues.
In November 1992, a few months after the governor's group started discussions, U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins handed down an order in the ACLU lawsuit against the City of Miami. Not only must the city cease rousting people just because they are homeless, Atkins ruled, it also must establish two "safe zones" where those with nowhere else to go could pursue normal daily activities in peace. Homeless advocates applauded, the city appealed, but everyone knew those safe zones weren't going to solve anything.
The basic form of today's homeless plan came out of the governor's commission's deliberations over several months in late 1992 and early 1993. A year earlier county leaders had brought to the legislature the notion of funding homeless programs with a tax, but the bill failed. This time the Dade County legislative delegation prepared to pull out all the stops to get an enabling act passed. Lawyer and Dade County lobbyist Ronald Book, a seasoned Tallahassee insider, was the county's main strategist. Chapman and Peeples, another governor's commission member who had worked for the tax a year earlier, threw in their considerable political weight.
In early April, in the final hours of the 1993 session, the legislature narrowly voted to authorize a one-percent food and beverage tax to fund homeless assistance programs, with fifteen percent of the revenue going to combat domestic violence after the first year. Peeples, along with Dade County Commissioner Alex Penelas, is now co-chairman of the county's Homeless Trust; Book, whom the Miami Herald once described as "a bearded, fast-talking whirlwind of Armani and gold," is a member of the trust's executive committee. Chapman does not sit on the trust. He has founded a new nonprofit agency, Community Partnership for Homeless, which is expected to win the contract to build and operate the three shelters proposed in the homeless plan. Pepper turned down a federal job with HUD to be executive director of the agency, at an annual salary of $90,000.
Once the legislature authorized the tax, the Dade County Commission had to approve the local levy, along with a plan for spending the revenue. A county task force, co-chaired by Chapman and Commissioner Alex Penelas, put together the homeless plan eventually approved by the commission in late July. The Homeless Trust, called for in the plan, was formed and had its first meeting by the second week in August. The plan is a slightly different version of the governor's commission's blueprint, with more emphasis on providing appropriate housing and services once the homeless people leave the temporary homeless assistance centers. Still, about half of the first year's budget will go to constructing one assistance center and starting work on a second. The plan calls for an additional 1000 to 1500 short-stay (up to 30 days) beds and 750 new transitional (up to nine months) beds to be created in the next three years. With each step in the "continuum of care," from short-term to permanent housing, the costs per person for lodging and services go up.
While the exact amounts to be spent are uncertain, partly because the actual tax revenues are still unknown, the trust's total annual budget is projected to be about $10 million, with $7.5 million coming from the tax and the rest from private fundraising efforts; the tax revenue is projected to drop to $6.2 million after the first year. However, the plan's priorities in its second and third years are subject to change, at the discretion of the trust. For example, says executive director Sergio Gonzalez, a second or third homeless assistance center may not be necessary, in which case that money would go to other types of housing or services.
Families and individuals entering an assistance center would be interviewed to determine their particular problems. Any immediate need, such as medical care or counseling, could be provided by specialists at the center. Confidential information about the homeless would be entered into a computer network called Project Link Up, now being prepared by the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, which could be shared among the county's homeless service providers.
After a stay of no more than 30 days, the homeless person or family would be referred to a smaller "temporary care" facility, most likely an existing nonprofit program offering appropriate services, such as drug abuse or mental health treatment, job training, and family counseling. This stage of the process, according to the plan, would last an average of six to nine months. Then would come the third step, which the plan calls "advanced care," setting up a relatively independent life in an apartment or house. How much money will go to this final and most expensive stage isn't clear. The plan allots a mere $600,000 in the third year for advanced care, with the stipulation that funds will be supplemented by matching state and federal grants, as yet unsecured.
During the lobbying of the legislature and subsequent campaign to get the tax and homeless plan passed by the county commission, advocates for the homeless and many operators of assistance programs privately expressed strong opposition to the proposed 500-bed homeless assistance centers. "We were told all along by Commissioner Penelas and Mr. Chapman and their people that [the plan] was not written in stone, let's just pass the tax, we can work out the details later," says Donna MacDonald, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless. "We were misled."
Patricia Regester agrees. Regester is executive director of the Mental Health Association and a member of the board of directors of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless. She recalls, "What we heard was, 'Just be quiet while we get the vote from the legislature,' then when it came to the county commission, there would be a payback because we cooperated. But there's never been a payback."
Chapman says everyone has compromised and now it's time to act. "There's no point in more debate," he asserts. "Every issue was settled, often with a split vote, and it's our plan. You can talk only so long."
For Chapman the issue was settled after he took a trip to Orlando last year. That city's $3.3 million homeless "campus," he became convinced, should serve as a model for whatever Dade County eventually came up with. The campus in downtown Orlando features a school, a medical clinic, nine apartments for families, and the nation's only Boys and Girls Club in a homeless shelter. A pavilion with 500 sleeping spaces marked out on the floor has been open 24 hours each day for a year and a half. A 200-bed multipurpose center, also housing counseling offices, adult-education classrooms, and a dining room, opened last month. The campus program also includes an optional rehabilitation and transition segment of several months' duration.
Michael Poole, president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, which operates the campus on less than two million dollars annually, has called it the only full-service shelter operation in the nation. An editorial in the Orlando Sentinel notes that crime has decreased in the area since the campus was built. After almost two years, the coalition claims 80 percent of those completing the program have stayed self-sufficient in permanent housing for at least a year. People who don't sign up for the transition segment must leave the pavilion after 30 days A and they can't come back. But if they return to the street, they'll be picked up by police, who allow no sleeping in public areas or on private property without the consent of the owner.
"The interesting thing about Orlando," advises Chapman, seated behind his Spartan-neat desk in the Knight-Ridder offices, "is you won't find anybody who went to sleep on the street last night."
Exactly, complain opponents of Dade's plan, who assert a clear-the-streets mentality governs Dade's Homeless Trust, to the detriment of a long-range solution. "The fundamental question is, Why are a group of business people in town attempting to put together a response [to homelessness] that has clearly been demonstrated to not be effective in communities all over the country? Of course the answer is, in my view, because they're more concerned about getting people out of sight than in getting people in permanent housing," argues Stephen Holloway, dean of the school of social work at Barry University and from 1983 until 1990 director of Columbia University Community Services in New York, a homeless assistance project.
But being motivated to clean up the streets doesn't preclude humanitarian concerns, insists Ronald Book, the lobbyist. "It is irresponsible of us as people not to try to take care of our own," he says. "But we've got a community image we're also trying to deal with, and I'm not afraid to say that."
The public, however, has heard little public discussion about this plan that will polish Dade's image by collecting several hundred homeless people and putting them under one roof. The only critical perspective to appear in the Herald, for example, was published in the Sunday "Viewpoints" section two days before the county commission's July 27 vote on the tax. It was an article co-authored by Milan Dluhy, director of Florida International University's Institute of Government, and Barry University's Stephen Holloway, both of whom had been key to the early Chamber of Commerce homeless plan and both of whom had vocal partings of the way with Chapman and his supporters. They described the first phase of the Dade County plan -- the 500-bed homeless assistance centers -- as a "formula for disaster."
In their article, Dluhy and Holloway proposed renting ten small neighborhood assessment centers from which homeless people would be referred to appropriate residential programs. They contended that a scattering of small centers would attract less neighborhood opposition than three large ones, while Chapman and others are equally convinced that more sites will mean more problems.
The very next day the Herald ran three rebuttals: a letter from Penelas and Chapman replying to Dluhy and Holloway's article; an article by Penelas praising the county's plan; and an editorial about the need for the commission to approve the plan and the tax. Chapman, fuming about the professors' piece, which he asserts was "full of misinformation," says he and Penelas wrote a reply over the phone that same day and prevailed upon Herald editorial-page editor Jim Hampton to run the letter Monday since the commission vote was the next day. Chapman says he also drafted an angry fifteen-page letter to Dluhy and Holloway, but never sent it.
The plan's proponents don't talk much about the subject, but they are mindful they will probably face neighborhood opposition of some kind no matter where they decide to put the first homeless assistance center. Always in the back of their minds, no doubt, is the pitiful saga of Camillus House, one of Miami's most respected homeless programs. The City of Miami has attempted five times since 1985 to move the operation out of its downtown location on prime real estate. No one wanted it. Most recently the city arranged late last year to relocate Camillus House to a site in Allapattah, only to be faced with furious neighborhood protests. (Most of the county's homeless shelters already are in that area.) In the end, two commissioners rescinded their support of the move, which killed it. So the fewer battles the better, many trust members reason.
But once a large site is found, critics worry that the scale will be too big to effectively manage the diverse needs of the residents, or that the staff size and expertise necessary to manage such a venture will be much more expensive than the county can afford. The guidelines issued by the trust for creating the homeless assistance centers specify they should be planned along the lines of Orlando's "campus," with medical services and counseling, and with separate quarters for women and children, the mentally ill, and substance abusers. But critics say the Orlando experiment hasn't been operating long enough to gauge its effectiveness. Even with the best intentions, they add, Dade's project faces a great risk of succumbing to the warehouse syndrome.
Alex Penelas is determined to fight any such suggestion. "We rejected outright the concept of big-city shelters," he says. "Everybody agrees smaller is better. But we have to balance the need and the pressure we're getting from the courts and the community. We have to balance the economies of scale. We've got to get something done. And there are a lot of positive things going on. Our private-public partnership is unparalleled. There are some people who want to throw a wrench into it by saying they're not happy with the [homeless assistance centers]. Well, I'm not either. We're not committed to building all three and hopefully we'll be able to phase them out."
Penelas has appointed a committee (including Stephen Holloway, one of the plan's most vocal critics) to study options for building more low-income housing -- another 2500 units within the next three years -- that can be made available for homeless people. This past September, Penelas and trust executive director Sergio Gonzalez were part of a local contingent that went to Washington to meet with the Dade congressional delegation, federal housing officials, and national homeless organizations, several of which had expressed concerns about Miami's plan. Gonzalez says the purpose of their trip was to introduce themselves and to try to build support for the plan. (Penelas and Gonzalez also recently met with HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros in a bid to have Dade's plan declared one of twenty national models in a newly announced homeless initiative, and thus eligible for millions of dollars in housing aid.)
Their assurances haven't assuaged the doubts of many local and national organizations that work with the homeless. "I don't think a 500-bed shelter is workable in any circumstance," argues Julie Sandorf, executive director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, a New York-based nonprofit organization that raises money and supplies technical assistance to groups providing permanent housing for the homeless. "What's happened in other cities in the country is they've become a huge cash drain, have not resulted in improving the quality of life of the people who live there, nor solve the problems of people living on the street. There's got to be an endgame. If you have limited resources, you have to think, what's the best use of those resources?"
Sandorf met with some local officials this past June to discuss assisting Miami's entry into the homeless housing arena. The plan's concentration of resources on short-term shelters, however, was a strategy her corporation doesn't support. Neither will that strategy attract much aid from the government. Homeless experts note that most of the coveted federal housing aid available for local homeless programs now goes to innovative transitional and permanent housing, and practically none to so-called emergency, or short-term, housing.
Regardless of potential shortcomings of the Dade County plan, many of the approximately 50 nonprofits here who exist month to month, hand-to-mouth, know that the potential benefits also are tremendous. With $3.1 million allotted to expand existing services the first year, and another $2 million reserve fund Penelas says will go to existing providers if it isn't needed elsewhere, organizations that scrape by on annual budgets of a few hundred thousand dollars stand to get some help for programs they've never been able to afford.
Beth Lang, executive director of Better Way of Miami and a member of the Homeless Trust's executive committee, says she's not concerned the homeless plan may not be the best possible; it's the best Miami has done so far. "It's a working document to move forward with to get a system of services for the homeless," says Lang, a nurse and social worker. "For many, many years I've seen what's happened down here. The providers never got one solid plan off the ground. Nothing's been coordinated, and we all goddamn barely make it." Better Way, a unique six-month rehabilitation program for homeless men with substance-abuse problems, is housed in a few frayed brick buildings on tree-shaded property along NW 28th Street that it rents from the City of Miami for one dollar per year. The organization was founded ten years ago by ten recovering addicts; it currently has living space for 30, although its policy is to turn no one away, which often stretches its resources to the breaking point.
Similarly, the New Life Family Center, the only place in Dade County where homeless families can stay together, won't be able to open its doors next year if it doesn't receive $75,000 from somewhere, says director Mitchell Wallick. Yet his program, which requires adults to work inside the small complex of buildings on NW First Avenue and 36th Street for "token money" and conducts special schooling for children, is recognized as one of the most successful of its kind in the nation. Wallick, like Beth Lang, is a member of the Dade Homeless Trust and is determined to see that the plan succeeds. "I am a realist," Wallick says. "I am willing to accept a slice of bread because I'm hungry, when I'd rather have a piece of chocolate cake."
Lang and Wallick are among the providers who stand a good chance of securing a contract to provide specialized services within the homeless assistance centers, or funding to expand their present capacities (contracts will be awarded by bid). But for Dade County's service providers in general, there is a downside to this imminent windfall. Already many say their fundraising has suffered because their traditional private sources mistakenly believe the new food and beverage tax will fund all homeless services.
Potentially more affecting is the advent of the Community Partnership for Homeless (CPH), the new nonprofit agency formed by Alvah Chapman specifically to bid on the contract to secure a site, build and operate the homeless assistance centers, and to raise money from private sources. Though bidding is open to any nonprofit charitable organization, no one has any illusions about who the winner will be. Chapman's corporation, with a 52-person board of directors that includes many of the county's most prominent citizens, may be the only organization with the resources to manage such a broad undertaking -- and to raise $8.5 million in private funds over the next three years, as the agency also will be required to do. Several nonprofit homeless service organizations discussed forming a consortium to bid on the work, but none materialized. The trust will decide the winning bid on November 10; final approval must be made by the county commission at its regular meeting on November 16 or December 7. Two months ago Chapman sent out 900 letters seeking volunteers to help coordinate every aspect of the task. More than 200 responded, and committees were formed to address everything from scouting sites to recruiting support groups from communities where centers will be built.
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.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.