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Leaders see homelessness on the rise in Central Florida

Homeless Veteran on the street
Orange County
The Housing First homeless program in Orange County focuses first on prevention, then emergency housing, transitional housing if needed, rapid rehousing and, for some homeless residents, permanent supportive housing.

Local experts say homelessness is on the rise in Central Florida and rising rents are to blame.

Speaking to the Orange County Commission, Mental Health and Homeless Issues Division Manager Donna Wyche and Martha Are, CEO of theHomeless Services Network of Central Florida, laid out the region's Housing First approach. It seeks to prevent homelessness and then prioritizes the most vulnerable for emergency housing and a permanent home.

Chart showing the Orange County homeless system components
Via video
Orange County

The annual point-in-time homeless count from January isn't out yet, but Are says it will be worse this year. Their report cited data from the school districts and the HSN's Homeless Management Information System showing that in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties 900 people became newly homeless in January.

Local agencies are working together to get people into housing, Are said. "We're doing a great offense job. We're losing on defense, because we can't keep people in housing, because the housing market is so challenged."

Commissioners said there's a need for crisis intervention, especially for people who may not be prioritized in their system.

Prevention is key, said Wyche. "We want to prevent people from becoming homeless and hitting rock bottom, right? Because it's never the place you want to be. You don't want to be in the homeless system because it's tough."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, commissioners approved $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to expand homeless prevention and diversion, especially in outer regions of the county, like the Apopka area.

The program, which is through the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, aims to prevent homelessness by helping those in a housing crisis stay in their home or find an immediate alternative.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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