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 traveled 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.