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COLUMN

Happytown

The state descends into a puddle of tears as unions are busted, the minimum wage is challenged, homeless rolls skyrocket and everybody looks for a free bus. Sad town!

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"Fortunately the legislature can't rewrite the Constitution," he says in a press release. "But that they would even want to cut pay for Florida's minimum wage earners just shows how profoundly out of touch the legislature and our millionaire governor are."

See you in the bread lines.

Speaking of hobo horror, it's 
not often that you get to see the all-stars of Central Florida's homeless services community collected in one room, but on Mar. 24 at the Heart of Florida United Way's headquarters, we did. We sat literally right next to Homeless Services Network's executive director, Cathy Jackson, and her requisite stacks of Post-It-marked reports, which rested only feet away from Health Care Center for the Homeless CEO Bakari Burns, whose dapper three-piece suit was reflected by his iPad, possibly an iPad 2, which intermittently distracted him from a presentation by Keith Theriot, program manager for the city's Housing & Community Development Department.

The heavy hitters were meeting because the city of Orlando and Orange County need to come up with a plan on how they're going to battle homelessness for the next five years. It's an ambitious mission not done purely out of the goodness of their collective heart; there's a report due every five years to the department of Housing and Urban Development, and they're already late. The main purpose of the meeting, then, was to identify the most pressing needs of the homeless today - needs which Theriot assures us are much different than the ones reflected in the last 400-plus page report turned in to HUD.

"The scenario has completely changed," he said. "2011 is very different than 2005."

Why? It's the economy, stupid. Theriot guesses that the newly unemployed are "90 percent of the new faces of homelessness."

Heart of Florida United Way's Broc Rosser gave some empirical backing to the gloom: Since 2007, annual requests of his organization for rent and mortgage assistance have jumped from 14,000 to 21,000; utility assistance requests have risen from 30,000 to 45,000; and food assistance requests have gone from 3,500 to 6,000.

It wasn't long before the PowerPoint was abandoned for the sake of a general "we're-fucked" sounding-board session. Jackson said the Seminole-Orange-Osceola "continuum of care" faces a shortage of beds for homeless people on all fronts, but most strikingly, there are only 19 permanent supportive housing beds for homeless families. She says that falls far short and estimates the need to be no fewer than 100 beds and possibly as many as 300 beds. "Homeless needs for families … we all know, is the experience from hell right now," she said.

The slash-happy atmosphere in Washington retained its status as the elephant in the room until minute 44 of the meeting, when one attendee mentioned that the federal com-
munity development block grants (CDBG) to which many homeless service monies are attached are looking at a potential 62 percent decrease in funding. Other U.S. representatives have proposed getting rid of CDBG entirely.

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