August 1, 2018
By Times-Union Editorial Board
Jacksonville’s homeless advocacy community is an inspiring role model for our city.
Because it has worked together to make Jacksonville a much better city.
Within the last 10 years, some 30 social services agencies working in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties have shared expertise, resources and their common passion for attacking homelessness.
And by working as one, they have compiled some amazing accomplishments.
● Reduced the number of area homeless veterans by 81 percent.
● Reduced chronic homelessness in our community by 57 percent.
● Reduced local homelessness by 27 percent.
● Housed 100 chronically homeless individuals in a 100-day period through the breathtakingly ambitious 100 Homes Jacksonville initiative.
● Launched an annual “Point-in-Time” campaign that sends squads of volunteers out into the streets overnight to do a literal count of those homeless. The effort has become so effective in identifying who is homeless — and their needs — that the count totals have steadily decreased from 2,442 in 2009 to 1,794 this year.
And the list goes on.
“No one can solve homelessness as a single entity,” said Changing Homelessness CEO Dawn Gilman, one of several local homeless advocacy leaders on hand for a recent meeting with the Times-Union Editorial Board.
“And we haven’t ‘solved’ homelessness in this area,” Gilman said. “But the numbers are now moving in the right direction.”
The reason the numbers are looking better, said Sulzbacher Center CEO Cindy Funkhouser, is because the area nonprofits dedicated to conquering homelessness have displayed a wonderful willingness to put aside individual agendas.
“Everyone has left their egos at the door,” Funkhouser said.
Too often as a city, we don’t celebrate the victories we do achieve in tackling our tough problems.
That’s why we should celebrate the many triumphs won on our behalf by Jacksonville’s homeless advocacy community.
But real challenges remain to further reduce the region’s homeless population — a reality that’s led the local advocacy community to take part in a new national campaign, called Built for Zero, to decrease chronic homelessness.
And here are just some of those daunting obstacles:
● The average homeless person is Jacksonville spends at least 100 days without stable, long-term housing.
● There is still a lack of affordable housing in Jacksonville, which is making it hard for many to escape homelessness or avoid becoming homeless.
“We still don’t have enough,” said Ability Housing CEO Shannon Nazworth, who noted that the local working poor must work 70-plus hours a week just to afford a one-bedroom apartment in many parts of Jacksonville.
● More and more Duval County teens and young adults are becoming homeless. “The numbers are clearly rising,” said Cindy Watson, CEO of the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network.
● Too many in our community still cling to the ignorant urban myth that Jacksonville’s homeless population largely consists of people who have traveled here from elsewhere to take advantage of local social services.
No, they aren’t. They are OUR citizens. They are OUR neighbors.
“Unfortunately, it’s a myth that allows people to avoid feeling a sense of responsibility to address homelessness in our city,” Funkhouser said.
All of these challenges require more funding support from our state and local leaders if we realistically expect to keep reducing the numbers of area homeless.
But they also require our entire community to take a page from Jacksonville’s homeless advocacy community:
We must work as one — and empathize as one.
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