Central Florida community leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations, realtors and business leaders met Wednesday, to discuss the problem of homelessness and affordable housing solutions, at the home of Derrick Wallace, candidate for Orange County Commissioner, District 6.
According to the 2013 Council on Homelessness Report, while statewide there has been a 17% drop in homelessness in 2013 compared to the previous year, Orange County has seen an increase of 29% in its homeless population. As a consequence, Wallace has made championing affordable housing through the promotion of tax incentives, mobilizing public/private funding and monitoring gentrification efforts in District 6, one of the priorities of his campaign.
“We need to be vigilant with the growing problem of homelessness in Orange County and call attention to this critical community issue,” said Wallace. “And that’s why my campaign is focusing on affordable housing solutions to help mitigate the problem.”
Wallace added that, while government can help with solutions to the homeless challenge, the role of the private sector, nonprofits and faith-based organizations would be central in bringing about a long-term solution to the problem.
Steve Smith, Executive Director of New Beginnings, a faith-based non-profit organization in South Lake County, focusing on helping the homeless learn how to live responsible lives, also addressed the meeting. He shared the view that, while there may be a strengthening of the economy, for many people their economic and financial situation remains perilous.
“There are over 13,000 students who are currently homeless in Central Florida, most of whom live in hotel rooms,” said Smith, who serves on the Lake County Housing Board and the Governor’s Council on Homelessness. “Under these conditions, how do you get an education? It’s a huge problem.”
Smith also lamented the growing problem of hunger and homelessness among seniors. In Orlando, some 12,000 seniors are unable to feed themselves adequately and one in four kids goes hungry in Central Florida.
Noting the three-year waiting period for section 8 housing, on the one hand, and the relatively high cost of rental units on the other, Smith opined that, essentially there is “no affordable housing” taking place.
“The key to preventing homelessness is providing affordable housing and that’s where we are sorely lacking in Central Florida,” he said.
According to Smith, faith-based organizations, corporations and nonprofits have increasingly been stepping up to assist homeless populations, in view of constrained government budgets. “We are trying to create jobs – and that’s wonderful. But let’s also deal with affordable housing so that people will have permanent places to live once they get a job,” he added.
Rosemarie Roth, Outreach Director at New Beginnings believes Wallace’s campaign priorities on jobs, affordable housing and expanded educational opportunities are spot on, in view of the challenges faced by District 6 residents.
“Mr. Wallace is a community developer – not just mortar and steel – who understands the needs of the people in the district,” said Roth, who has been providing community outreach services in the Central Florida area for more than 16 years. “I like his calm and steady leadership and his plan to include everyone – this is what we need at this time.”
Today’s meeting was attended by Ting Wong, Mrs. United Nations; Dr. Ted Ridore, President of Cornerstone Christian Unity; Veronica Sprauve, M & V Cleaning Services; Sam and Guenet Roberts of Roberts & Roberts Management Company; Carlton “Fergie” Ferguson of Nationsway Capital Finance Corp., Rev. Linton Morris, Promise Land Realty and Jackie Richie -Caribbean Queen, among other participants.