Under the leadership of Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orange County remains committed to ensuring that homelessness is limited to a brief, one time occurrence. To accomplish such a goal, Orange County and neighboring jurisdictions work together through the Homeless Services Network (HSN) of Central Florida and the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness (CFCH) through a structure called the “Continuum of Care” (CoC). This helps align services and planning in conjunction with federal funding throughout Central Florida. Through this design, government organizations work side by side with other regional private, faith-based and public partners. Here in Central Florida the CoC includes: Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, along with the cities of Orlando, Kissimmee and Sanford.
Together with advocates from the tri-county region, Mayor Jacobs has taken a leadership role in the effort to end homelessness. She has served as the previous co-chair and remains a current governing vice-chair of the CFCH and maintains representation on the boards for HSN and the CoC. With the Board of County Commissioners and a wide network of partners, Mayor Jacobs is committed to continue finding solutions for those experiencing homelessness. In Central Florida, three key demographic populations have been identified among homeless populations: children and families, the chronically homeless and Veterans. A better understanding of what leads to homelessness among these populations, as well as the unique challenges they face in ending their homelessness, has been critical.
In 2013, Orange County began a regional engagement to define best practices and the community cost of homelessness. As part of a delegation, Mayor Jacobs travelled to communities like Salt Lake City and Houston to learn from their success. They also commissioned a series of reports helped local leaders better grasp the depth of homelessness in Central Florida. Key initiatives like the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homeless, Housing the First 100 and Impact Families are just a few examples of how local leaders continue to work together to help Central Floridians facing or experiencing homelessness.
In recent years, Orange County, along with communities across the nation, realigned the investment of homeless services and initiatives with the federal housing-first model. Housing-first is an approach to end homelessness that centers on facilitating permanent housing first and then providing services and resources as needed.
Orange County Government remains the single largest funder of public services for the homeless in Central Florida. Currently, Orange County funds more than $5 million annually for a vast array of services, including housing, supportive services, crisis assistance, eviction prevention, and mental health and substance abuse assessment.
In FY 2016-2017, Orange County budgeted more than $4.5 million dollars for targeted family and homeless services, as part of the overall strategy to impact homelessness. Additionally, Orange County has allocated a total of $5 million of INVEST in Our Home for Life funds, to be leveraged with other resources to create new affordable units for low- and very low-income households.
Homeless Services Network
Homeless Services Network (HSN) of Central Florida is the lead agency for the Central Florida continuum of care. It provides Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding for six jurisdictions including Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties and the cities of Orlando, Sanford and Kissimmee. Established in 1993, HSN has brought more than $50 million in HUD, Veterans Administration (VA) and state of Florida funds to Central Florida to provide assistance to the homeless. HSN funds programs that provide transitional and permanent housing, supportive services and ongoing case management.
Central Florida Commission on Homelessness
The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness was re-established as a non-profit organization in 2013, helping to bring advocacy and awareness to the conversation of homelessness in Central Florida. The Commission continues to inform and inspire the community to act on the issues facing homeless Veterans, families, youth and other homeless individuals. Their Cardboard Stories initiative, through the Commission’s Rethink Homelessness campaign, had wide-spread reach on social media and is credited with helping to place a compassionate face to the conversation of homelessness among the Central Florida community.
ENTRY INTO HOMELESS SERVICES
Here in Central Florida, the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida is the lead organization that manages a coordinated system of care to serve Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. This coordinated entry system includes a network of affiliated providers working together to mitigate homelessness. The prerequisite to services begins with an initial assessment that ensures the individual is captured in the local Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). This coordinated approach is crucial because it helps minimize the duplication of services among social services organizations, as well as tracks the status of services to an individual and documents previous or currently offered services. HMIS is a confidential system, which access only granted to authorized social service providers.
HOW TO HELP AN INDIVIDUAL WHO IS HOMELESS
If you are homeless, or know someone who is experiencing homelessness, there are several ways to help. The H.O.P.E. Team, a team comprised of caring individuals with specialized backgrounds, conducts homeless outreach services in Central Florida. This team goes to the woods, camps, streets and other locations where homeless individuals gather. They also canvass streets in search of individuals without shelter. The H.O.P.E. team proactively works to locate individuals, but also responds to concerned citizens who believe an individual is homeless and in need of help.
HOW TO FIND HOMELESS HELP
If you are homeless, or assisting someone who is homeless, there are several ways to enter the system of care which assesses, identifies and tracks assistance.
- Call 2-1-1 - The Heart of Florida United Way's 2-1-1 hotlines serves as a 24-hour resource for individuals experiencing homelessness. 2-1-1 is designed to connect callers to a multilingual 2-1-1 specialist in the area who can put them in touch with local organizations that provide critical services to improve and save lives.
- Visit one of three HUBs in Central Florida. A HUB is a location where individuals and families who are literally homeless can come for a face-to-face assessment. There are two HUBs located in Orange County and one in Seminole County.
Orange County HUBs
Healthcare Center for the Homeless
808 West Central Blvd., Orlando, FL.
9 a.m.-12 p.m. every Friday, except holidays.
United Against Poverty
150 W. Michigan St, Ste A, Orlando, FL
1:30-4 p.m., except holidays.
- The Orange County Families, Health and Social Services programs provide a helping hand in a time of need and are compiled onto a single page for reference. Visit any of the 24 programs listed to find information and assistance.
- Orange County’s Great Oaks Village Youth Shelter provides temporary housing for youth experiencing a variety of problems. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week, youth at the shelter may be homeless, runaways, lockouts or may be seeking a cooling off period during a family crisis. The Youth Shelter accepts referrals from families, schools, the court system, DJJ, DCF, law enforcement and other agencies. The Shelter can be contacted at 407-836-7626, for additional information.
- Orange County women and children in need of leaving a dangerous living situation are encouraged to contact Harbor House of Central Florida at 407-886-2856 for immediate assistance, including help preventing homelessness.
- The Belvin Perry Jr. Central Receiving Center (CRC) has been a single point of entry for mental health and substance-use disorders and homelessness since its opening in 2003. The CRC accepts crisis mental health and substance abuse consumers in need of acute care services in our community.
HOUSING LOCATOR SEARCH
The FloridaHousingSearch.org website was launched in June of 2006 and is sponsored by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The website was developed with support from a number of nonprofit and government organizations in Florida. The housing locator service allows people to locate available housing that best fits their individual and family needs. The service can be accessed online 24 hours a day and is supported by a toll-free, bilingual call center Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. EDT. Individuals can easily search for housing using a wide variety of search criteria with special mapping features and receive apartment listings that provide a multitude of important information about each unit. In addition, the site connects people to other housing resources through website links and provides helpful tools for renters such as an affordability calculator, rental checklist, and renter rights and responsibilities information.