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Homelessness Requires Housing and Services, Not Jail

City leaders want to end homelessness in downtown, yet by criminalizing it, they will be wasting precious resources.

The Sept. 17 Other Views article,  “A Solution for Those Sleeping on Miami’s Streets” by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff presented a misguided effort by city leaders to gain public support for what they think are the two final steps needed to end chronic homelessness.

If this most complex issue were that easy to address, then why are there thousands of chronically homeless individuals still living on the streets of every major urban U.S. city? There are many experts nationwide, including in Miami, working diligently to address the needs of the most difficult homeless population to serve.

The chronically homeless are the hardest to reach, so many of them have significant mental-health and addiction conditions. The city’s recommendations are the worst possible solutions. Overnight beds are inconsistent with the national model referred to as Housing First, an evidence-based model that recommends individualized housing and wrap-around services as the most effective method of supporting chronically homeless individuals.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, permanent supportive housing is one of the key strategies. Putting a person in a bed without providing services won’t solve the problem.

The Pottinger settlement is a nationally recognized landmark decision that has prevented and should continue to prevent the criminalization of people who are homeless. Arresting those who need treatment is not only inhumane, but counterproductive, too. When has having a criminal record ever helped anyone regain their standing in society? A criminal record is a significant barrier to housing and employment.

City leaders want to end homelessness in downtown, yet by criminalizing it, they will be wasting precious resources on unnecessary arrests and the resulting criminal records will make it more difficult for these individuals to achieve the very thing that the city purports to support. 

The Miami Coalition for the Homeless appreciates the city’s interest on this critical issue. While we can understand and share some of the frustrations, we believe that a more effective solution to addressing the needs of the chronically homeless is to continue to work with the Homeless Trust, which has proffered several immediate actions to target the needs of this particular population. Furthermore, we hope that any modifications to the Pottinger settlement would avoid further criminalization of the homeless.

Bobbie_Ibarra.JPGBarbara “Bobbie” Ibarra joined the Miami Coalition for the Homeless from Jungle Island where she was the Vice President/General Manager for four years. Previously, Bobbie was the founding president for Our Kids, a non-profit created to transition and manage Miami-Dade’s child welfare system. Bobbie has also held leadership roles with Miami-Dade County and Citibank. She started her career as a social worker. Bobbie holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a Master’s degree in Education and Counseling from Temple University.

This Op-Ed Piece originally appeared in The Miami Herald’s Readers Forum.


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