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Fort Lauderdale Business Community Zooms In On Homelessness Solutions

Fort Lauderdale Forum
Caitie Switalski
Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Ben Sorensen, left, Kathleen Cannon from the United Way of Broward County, center, and Rebecca McGuire from the Broward Homeless Initiative Partnership, right, all spoke Wednesday at the Fort Lauderdale Forum.

In recent years, the City of Fort Lauderdale has faced heavy criticism for its treatment of homelessness, including of a long-running legal dispute it's had with groups distributing free food in public spaces.

Now some Ft. Lauderdale business leaders are trying to reduce the amount of people experiencing homelessness through a new coalition called the Broward Business Council On Homelessness.

Leaders from the council met Wednesday during a panel organized by the Fort Lauderdale Forum at the city's women's club. 

More than 2,300 people sleep on the streets every night in Broward County.

One of the council's main initiatives is called Housing First, which helps the homeless rent and move into apartments and stay housed. The program is considered a best-practice across the country for finding permanent housing for people.

"A roof over your head is healthcare," said Kathleen Cannon, the CEO of United Way of Broward County, a main partner on the council.

Starting Oct. 1, local shelters will make a coordinated push for Housing First.

Rebecca McGuire, who works at The Broward Homeless Initiative Partnership, a nonprofit that oversees funding for homeless initiatives, said shelters are moving away from the idea of "housing readiness," which means people get life skills classes and information, but not a personalized plan. 

"Now everybody comes in [and] gets a housing plan," McGuire said.

Read More: Fort Lauderdale Approves Settlement With 10 Homeless More Than A Year After Raid

The council is also working to recruit landlords across the county who would be willing to rent to people that are currently homeless.

"We're going to provide wraparound services, a case manager for that person in that housing unit," said Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Ben Sorensen.

He also called on the panel's audience of about 100 concerned residents, volunteers and members of the business community to do more to help implement long-term solutions in the community. 

"The solution has to be a solution that each of us are willing to shoulder some of the cost, some of the burden," Sorensen said. "If we keep saying 'I don't want it near my neighborhood'...we're not going to get there. We're going to be back here in the same room in five years talking about the same thing."

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, currently leads the WLRN Newsroom as Interim Managing Editor. Prior to transitioning to leadership from production, Caitie reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.