This week, Broward County and Fort Lauderdale officials, along with business partners, cleared out a homeless camp in downtown Fort Lauderdale where about 80 people were living in tents.
Monday morning there was a press conference to announce the "Home for the Holidays" initiative. By Thursday afternoon, all of the tents had been cleared out of the county Main Library's plaza. A fence and a sea of barricades were all that was left by Friday morning.
It’s not the first time officials have tried to remove the camp. A year and a half ago City of Fort Lauderdale officials were heavily criticized for clearing out the plaza with police, and bulldozers - and no advance notice to the people living there.
But, Broward officials like Rebecca McGuire said this time is different.
“When we got the business community involved in April, the resources came to light. For us to be able to house people, we needed resources. We needed money to do it. And so we have that now,” said McGuire, section administrator for the Homeless Initiative Partnership of Broward County.
United Way and other business and nonprofit groups joined the city and county for the initiative. In all, more than 40 organizations are participating.
It started to come together in April, when the Broward Business Council On Homelessness was announced. The private business sector has pooled more than $1.3 million dollars toward the housing efforts so far. Fort Lauderdale has put up around $800,000 dollars, and Broward County has committed $1.2 million dollars so far.
The end goal is for people living in the camp to transition to eventually transition to more permanent housing.
There will also be a community court in Fort Lauderdale, which is set to start the first week of January, to carry on long-term efforts. Instead of arresting people, when police pick people off the streets, instead of arresting them, they’ll be sent to community court, where a judge can identify services and match them to a social services case manager.
James Donnelly, CEO of property management company The Castle Group, co-chairs of the Broward Business Council on Homelessness.
“There was literally a different solution for every person in the encampment,” he said. “It took six months of prep and it’s going to take another six months where they need to be.”
On the South Florida Roundup, WLRN’s Broward reporter Caitie Switalski and Sun Sentinel reporter Brittany Wallman joined host Tom Hudson. They discussed how the camp’s been cleared out and what the process moving forward.
WLRN: Describe what this camp looked like and was when it was filled with people.
CAITIE SWITALSKI: This time last week, there were about 80 tents and 80 people permanently living full time on this plaza in front of the county's Main Library to varying degrees of need. A lot of people on the plaza were working and just can't make it to first-last security. But then you have people with some severe mental health issues that need to be addressed. It's a wide range of people, and the plaza was full at all times. Police officers are always stationed across the street. It's its own neighborhood.
It was both easy to miss and hard to miss at the same time, because it had been there so long for folks that live and work in that area. Perhaps you get used to it.
SWITALSKI: I work out of that library a lot. You find the regular people you say "hi" to on your way in and out.
BRITTANY WALLMAN: It was really interesting. If you parked just watched, you would see good Samaritans pull up with a stack full of pizza boxes. A lot of people knew that if you wanted to help the homeless, you could bring them food or little supplies.
We heard from some of the folks involved that this time will be different and the involvement of the business community since April helped marshal the resources here. But what is different about this time around?
SWITALSKI: A year and a half ago overnight, the city of Fort Lauderdale came in with bulldozers and it was a very jarring experience. They tried to clear the camp in a day basically and that did not bode well for anyone because the community came back. So this time when they were looking at it, what they needed was this push from the private enterprise community. Once that started in April, they have been putting together money for two different types of housing transitions. and they were calling it a "home for the holidays."
The camp was cleared out fully by Thursday afternoon and they started on Monday. So if you didn't know what was going on behind the scenes, this look like it happened very quickly. And I think the difference is they are assigning case managers. One case manager to every 12 to 15 people that will visit them several times a week and follow up on two different housing models. One is called rapid re-housing which is for the people who need help getting first-last security or a little bit of rent assistance, and they'll be short-term. The other type of permanent solutions-housing is to help people in the long-run.
Where is this housing coming from in notoriously affordable housing-short Broward County? Where are all these units coming from?
WALLMAN: These are market rate apartments and we know how expensive that is. A lot of the people are first being put in motels. The United Way is still pleading for landlords out there who will want that steady check from government. For some of these homeless people, out of the 80 individuals that 26 of the households will have permanent housing.
They're recognizing that that's the fraction that is never going to be capable of being self-sustaining. And so that's one of the big differences here is if you been around Broward for a long time, you know they've tried so many different things. One year, they bought bus passes and tried to send everybody back up north to their families. And the thing is they keep coming back to downtown because that's where the hospital is, that's where the jail is. The Main Library has bathrooms and computers. It's ideal. I work there, too.