Operation Lift HOPE Targets Solutions to Homelessness

Operation-Lift-HOPE-Targets-Solutions-to-HomelessnessSince the City of Fort Lauderdale passed a controversial ordinance restricting feeding the homeless in public places outdoors in October, Mayor Jack Sieler has been criticized by many for the city’s decision to stop 95-year-old Arnold Abbot and others, who defied the ordinance by feeding the homeless in public parks and at the beach. The story went viral on social media and Fort Lauderdale leaders, depicted as heartless bureaucrats, have been the butt of jokes by many, including the Colbert Report.

However, hope is rising behind the scenes as a team of community leaders from the government, private and social sectors have been collaborating to support a comprehensive solution to the plight of the homeless in Broward County. The effort, entitled Operation Lift HOPE, is aimed at building a better future for homeless veterans and families in our community. Their mission is to engage, empower, educate and employ.

Spearheaded by HOPE South Florida, a non-profit organization that seeks to serve the homeless and hurting through partnerships with churches and other agencies, Vice Chairman Andy Mitchell, of the Fairwinds Group, said they have brought together the top 25 services providers to ask the question, “How do we repair this? What does it take to care for the people left behind?”

A team effort
Broward College President David Armstrong has also joined the effort hosting three separate planning meetings in which key players from the public, private and social sectors have brainstormed what it would take if resources were unlimited to solve the problem. The December meeting was attended by County Commissioner Chip LaMarca and Mitchell insists it has the full support of Mayor Seiler.

Operation Lift HOPE is daring to dream big, but they don’t intend to stop there. Having completed the discovery and dream phases, Mitchell said they are now designing a business plan that will have concrete needs and solutions with specific budget items that can be put into place to wipe out homelessness for veterans and families in Broward County.

“Our object is for all of you to tell us what we need to do and where to solve this,” said Mitchell to the meeting of service providers. “Then those buckets need to be filled.”

Finding funding
The final plan will be presented in a professional marketing and public relations campaign seeking the involvement of community leaders and business people to provide financial support. Mitchell said 54 churches are already involved, as well as local foundations and businesses.

According to Mitchell, all funds raised will go into an account managed by the National Christian Foundation, an organization that promotes charitable giving by offering giving funds and asset-based giving. “A Grant Approval Board will make all of the decisions on how the funds will be spent with accountability procedures in place keeping everyone’s interests at bay,” Mitchell said.

Serving veterans and families
“If you want to fix this problem its going to take the entire community,” said Mitchell. “I know I’m tired of looking at it, without any solutions.” Their biggest focus is extending a helping hand to families and veterans. “We can’t have Veterans coming back from Afghanistan who can’t find a job,” said Mitchell. Often they just need additional training and services to get them out of shelters and into housing. Mitchell has enlisted the aid of the former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark, the Navy Seals and other representatives from the armed forces in a fundraising effort, which will culminate in a gala dinner at the Broward County Convention Center in the fall.

Connecting people
Operation Lift HOPE media Partner, CBS News is also unveiling a Neighbors 4 Neighbors Homeless Awareness Campaign in January that will use air time to educate, engage and empower our neighbors to help serve those who are homeless and in unstable living conditions. After introducing the many faces of homelessness, a series of public service announcements will highlight the outstanding work already being done by the homeless provider community and invite people to register to volunteer on HelpingFeelsGood.org, a volunteer matching service.

Meeting needs
The community needs discussed during the December Operation Lift Hope Synergistic Team Meeting centered on crisis management services, rapid re-housing and job training and placement. But perhaps the greatest immediate need is the expansion of shared meals programs in Broward County to seven days a week.

Hope South Florida currently coordinates feeding programs with local churches four (soon to be five) days per week. However, Robin Martin, executive director of HOPE South Florida, said he is hoping the church community will get more involved to meet the need seven days a week. This would require the addition of new and existing locations to provide additional feeding venues, food and volunteers with funding of about $200 per location per meal to cover expenses.
Another need expressed is the creation of a Community Programs Campus for short term triage and shelter with support from existing agencies.

Broward County Sheriff Captain Scott Russell, of their department of community services, explained that “having a place where we can bring people for temporary one-night housing would provide us with the opportunity to avoid having to arrest someone.” People could get a shower, rest and get the services they need. The group is exploring the option of repurposing a county stockade for this type of use.

Extending the hours of already successful day shelters may also help until rapid re-housing can take place.

When it comes to housing, the group estimates that it would take about $6.6 million to provide rapid re-housing for the approximately 164 veterans and more than 200 families who are currently homeless in Broward County.

Of course, meaningful employment is a major component of ensuring that people experiencing homelessness are able to maintain affordable housing. Working with governmental agencies and local businesses, they hope to create additional job training and employment opportunities as well as internships for those facing homelessness. It was suggested that a full-time position be created for someone who would create relationships with a network of potential employers willing to assist the homeless.
A continuum of care “We want to strengthen the continuum of care,” explained Mitchell. With a unique ability to get people to work together and extract the best from everyone, Mitchell said, “I’m here to connect the dots and see things happen.”
From these meetings, Mitchell said, “We will develop a document that we can take to local business leaders and groups, like the Broward Workshop, and discuss how and what we can do… by the time we’re finished, we’re going to find a marching army.” He said he is confident “people will want to help because at the end of the day that’s what makes you feel human.”

If you want to learn more about how you can get involved, visit OperationLiftHope.org or contact Hope South Florida at hopesouthflorida.org or 954-566-2311.

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