In 2016, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs worked with a wide network of community partners to continue transforming the lives of chronically homeless Veterans and families.
In late January, a team of more than 160 trained volunteers, led by the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida (HSN), initiated the 2016 Point in Time Count (PIT) across Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. The PIT is an annual physical count of homeless individuals in a community, and serves as a gauge for the number of persons or families who meet the federal definition of homeless, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to numbers released in May by the HSN, the PIT census identified a one-year 23.6 percent decrease in the number of homeless individuals in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, as of January 27.
Mayor Jacobs continues to serve as co-chair of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness (CFCH). This initiative works to combat homelessness and poverty issues throughout Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. As co-chair and leader of the Family Homelessness Committee, established in 2014, Mayor Jacobs strives to change the lives of homeless children, families and military Veterans. In her leadership role, she collaborates with advocates from the tri-county region and a wide network of partners to achieve these goals. A great example of this partnership is the 2015 CFCH’s Veterans Surge initiative, which identified 418 homeless Veterans in the region. The Surge was the first step of the “Heroes Come Home” initiative, which included locating homeless Veterans, housing and assisting them.
In June, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) Executive Director Matthew Doherty thanked Mayor Jacobs and City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for their commitment to ending chronic veteran homelessness. USICH, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed that Orange County, as well as Osceola and Seminole counties, achieved the milestone of effectively ending chronic homelessness among Veterans. Through these efforts, Orange County answered former First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative, the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.
Mayor Jacobs, along with Rulon Munns, chair of the Orange County Committee on Homelessness of the CFCH, and in partnership with Barbara Poppe, former executive director of the USICH, released the findings of a report on homelessness in Orange County. The report, titled Orange County Investment in Programs to Prevent and End Homelessness, was produced at the request of Mayor Jacobs and Committee Chair Munns. The Orange County Committee of CFCH is working tirelessly to make recommended changes, with a specific emphasis on affordable housing.
Through Mayor Jacobs’ INVEST in Our Home for Life initiative, there are multiple programs and projects aimed directly at expanding access and inventory of affordable housing, in order to address an acknowledged shortage in the region’s marketplace. Orange County's housing initiatives will receive $5 million over the next five years to help fund these efforts, including an Affordable Rental Housing project, which will create 70 brand-new affordable housing apartments, with 20 percent of the units dedicated to homeless and very low-income citizens.
Orange County's projected $2 million investment to the Wayne Densch Center, in partnership with Florida Hospital, Ability Housing, Wayne Densch Charities, the Central Florida Foundation and the Florida Community Loan Fund, will support the renovation of a facility, thereby providing a vital housing resource for families, including those who have challenges due to mental illness, addiction or physical disability. Additionally, the New Horizons Project in South Apopka, formerly known as Hawthorne Village, will provide 56 homes for low- and very low-income families in need of housing.
In May, JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced that it was investing another $500,000 toward the Central Florida Foundation's Homelessness Impact Fund to help increase access to affordable rental housing. With this new investment, JPMorgan Chase has collectively committed more than $1.45 million to help impact homelessness in Central Florida.
In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Housing Assistance Senate Bill 1534, which aims to further the “Housing First” approach and expedite efforts in housing chronically homeless families across the state. The bill also allows flexibility in the use of State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program funds for local governments to provide rental assistance to the homeless.
In October, Mayor Jacobs also hosted the Regional Affordable Housing Summit, which brought together planners, developers, local government leaders and others from across the region to discuss strategies that could help create more affordable housing options in Central Florida. The Regional Affordable Housing Summit tackled a wide variety of issues and solutions, and will be followed by a number of topic-specific workshops in 2017.
In Orange County and throughout Central Florida, significant efforts remain ongoing to align existing models with national best practices, which focus on a "Housing First" philosophy. Through the collaborative efforts of key stakeholders, including the business community, nonprofit providers, faith groups and regional jurisdictions, the tri-county area continues to focus on reducing veteran, chronic and family homelessness.