Combating Homelessness

As Central Florida puts a newfound emphasis on an age-old problem, Rollins College is providing leadership in thought and action.

The Homeless Jesus statue in downtown Orlando is an art installation that the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando hopes will help the community view the homeless in a different way. (Photo by Aileen Perilla, courtesy of KnightNews.com) The Homeless Jesus statue in downtown Orlando is an art installation that the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando hopes will help the community view the homeless in a different way. (Photo by Aileen Perilla, courtesy of KnightNews.com)

Over the past year, combating homelessness has become a top priority for community leaders across Central Florida, including those at Rollins College.

Whether serving on an advisory committee or volunteering at Orlando Union Rescue Mission (OURM), students, faculty, staff, and alumni are doing their part to bring about positive change.

Invest Now, Save Later

A recent report by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness found that taxpayers spend an average of $31,000 per year on the chronically homeless. That includes expenses associated with jail cells, hospital visits, law enforcement, and a variety of public services.

However, the study also found that taking a preventative, housing-first approach—one that includes caseworker assistance in areas like healthcare, prescriptions, and government benefits—could cost as little as $10,000 per person, not including initial construction and renovation.

With that in mind, the commission is partnering with local governments, nonprofits, and private industry to implement a concept known as permanent supportive housing that has proven effective in Houston, Seattle, and other major cities.

In a similar capacity, Cindy Bowman-LaFronz, Rollins’ director of community relations, champions the idea of rapid rehousing as a member of Orange County’s Family Homeless Committee. For working-class families and individuals in jeopardy of becoming homeless, rapid rehousing “reduces the length of homelessness and the negative long-term impact,” she explains. “It’s also the most cost-effective and the most successful.”

Ronald F. Piccolo, Cornell Professor of Management and academic director for Rollins’ Center for Leadership Development, also serves on the Family Homeless Committee, which works closely with the area’s public school systems. In this role, “I am serving as a consultant to the committee and attempting to estimate the source, nature, and application of the region’s funding in support of family homelessness,” Piccolo says. “My research will describe how our region allocates funding to address family homelessness.”

“One issue at the forefront of all of our minds is the children experiencing homelessness in our region,” Bowman-LaFronz says. “The devastating toll housing instability takes on families has a ripple effect for generations after. The result of this committee will be the formulation of a strategic approach and regional solutions for families who are living doubled up, in day-to-day hotels, and, at times, on the streets of Central Florida.”

In addition to private charity and federal money, Florida Hospital recently donated $6 million to permanent supportive housing projects, and the city of Orlando and Orange County have pledged a combined $4.7 million.

Along these lines, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness is teaming with the local Veteran’s Affairs and Homeless Service Network to locate every homeless veteran in Central Florida. From there, a registry will be created to help veterans gain housing and find the resources they need.

The Rollins Community Gives Back

Brains aren’t the only way Rollins is helping to tackle homelessness. Brawn comes in handy too.

The Rollins SummerSERVE team listen to and introduction from the volunteer coordinator of the Orlando Union Rescue Mission. The Rollins SummerSERVE team listen to and introduction from the volunteer coordinator of the Orlando Union Rescue Mission. On July 11, about 50 people affiliated with the College participated in a SummerSERVE volunteer activity at OURM’s women and children’s facility on West Washington Street. Crews mowed grass, laid mulch, painted road markings, washed windows, cleaned the chapel, and performed a number of other maintenance tasks.

“There are many ways you can spend your time,” Alex Daubert ’15 ’17MBA said while shoveling a gravel sidewalk. “This seems to be the way that’s most valuable and rewarding—for me and others as well.”

At OURM, excitement is building to break ground at its new men’s center, planned for the corner of Old Winter Garden Road and John Young Parkway; it will replace the current facility bought by the Orlando Magic on West Central Boulevard.

Tanneka Guice, OURM’s community relations coordinator, said the new men’s center will help the mission expand its outreach and raise awareness.

“Our story is best shown, not told. We encourage people to volunteer, tour the facility, and send up lots of prayers,” Guice says. “Our approach to dealing with people in need is not only to provide them with food, shelter, and water, but to also help them be self-sustainable when they leave, especially when it comes to getting a high school diploma, developing life skills, and finding meaningful employment.”

Marissa Corrente (left), the assistant director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement joins Rollins alumna Joan Bennett Clayton ’57 (right) at OURM. Clayton has served on the board of the OURM since 1986. Marissa Corrente (left), the assistant director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement joins Rollins alumna Joan Bennett Clayton ’57 (right) at OURM. Clayton has served on the board of the OURM since 1986. OURM has 322 beds and supplies 900 meals a day. In a typical summer month, the mission benefits from more than 4,000 volunteer hours.

“It’s really important for us to keep that relationship with the community,” says SummerSERVE Coordinator Brianna Pearson, a hall director in the Office of Residential Life. “[Rollins’] mission, which is [educating students for] global citizenship and responsible leadership, really ties into that role. SummerSERVE allows Rollins students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends to be engaged in the community.”