By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
There’s a local debate brewing about how to help the men, women and children of Osceola County who have no place to call home.
Some live in motels with family members or friends, one paycheck away from losing the roof over their heads. Others live without electricity or running water, either on the streets or in camps in the woods — now technically a crime in Osceola County.
The County Commission appears to be split on a proposal by Commissioner Peggy Choudry to create a one-stop homeless crisis center that would centralize services and provide emergency housing.
Currently, the only temporary shelter in Osceola is for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Polk, Orange and Seminole counties have emergency shelters for families and individuals, which is where Osceola nonprofits and churches regularly refer people.
The county currently has budgeted $842,000 to fight homelessness this year, which also includes money to pay for county staff and operational costs.
In comparison, the county is spending more than five times that amount, about $5.5 million in 2018 on the technology park known as BRIDG and NeoCity, the planned commercial development surrounding it.
Choudry is seeking roughly $865,000 for the first year of a three-year pilot program to roll out the one-stop homeless center, and $665,000 each additional year.
But Choudry’s idea isn’t gaining traction among her fellow commissioners. In an opinion piece in the News-Gazette last week, Commissioner Brandon Arrington said taxpayer money would be best leveraged through regional approaches.
While Choudry contends the county can do more, Arrington points to local successes such as the 130 families who found permanent homes with assistance from the county and local nonprofits last year as well as the psychiatric center at Park Place Behavioral Health Care that serves the homeless population.
Choudry now sits on the board of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, a position Arrington held for two years before her. The homeless commission, along with the Homeless Services Network, for years have brought together local government officials, politicians and leaders in the faith and nonprofit communities to work on the issue.
An analysis by the Commission on Homelessness showed Central Florida counties spend an average of $31,000 every year on every chronically homeless individual, many of whom cycle in and out of jail, emergency rooms and inpatient hospitalizations. Many also are disabled or have chronic health problems.
However, providing permanent supportive housing for those same people costs an average of $10,051 per person per year, according to the analysis.
The influx of Puerto Ricans to Central Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and the ongoing affordable housing shortage are exacerbating the problem.
Choudry hosted a meeting late last month to announce her one-stop center proposal. Another will be Wednesday, Feb. 28, from 530 to 7 p.m. at the Osceola County Commission Administrative Building, fourth floor.