[Hpn] Orlando's Homeless Pavilion Seen as a Model Solution

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Thu, 12 Jul 2001 12:38:11 -0400


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-------Forwarded article-------

Thursday, July 12, 2001
The Ledger <http://www.theledger.com>
[Lakeland, Florida]
Local News section
Orlando's Homeless Pavilion Seen as a Model Solution
<http://www.theledger.com/local/local/12hmls.htm>

Nuisance crimes have dropped nearly in half, along with merchants' 
complaints.


By ERIC PERA
The Ledger


ORLANDO -- Hospitality is the lifeblood of this city, arguably the planet's 
premier playground.

The welcome mat even extends to the legions of homeless men drawn to 
downtown Orlando for its many parks, library and other public haunts.

Nine years ago, the city's business community was confronted with large 
numbers of homeless people panhandling and sleeping in parks, parking 
garages and other public places.

The problem mirrored what Lakeland is experiencing, exacerbated by homeless 
shelters that limit free accommodations to a few dozen nights a year and 
churches feeding people in parks.

Orlando's solution, with a $300,000 contribution from a downtown merchants' 
group, was to build a simple, no-frills emergency shelter, called the 
pavilion, where no limits are placed on stays and churches rotate daily 
feedings.

In the decade that the pavilion has been in operation, nuisance crimes 
associated with the homeless have dropped nearly in half, police and 
homeless advocates say.

A group of Lakeland officials and merchants, led by police Chief Cliff 
Diamond, is studying Orlando's approach to sheltering the chronic homeless, 
many of whom suffer from mental illness or substance abuse.

Federal money is available to build shelters for the chronic homeless, 
although so far none of Lakeland's homeless agencies has plans to build a 
pavilion-type facility.

But one is badly needed, said Donald Winslow, a board member of Lakeland's 
Talbot House shelter for men and women.

"The ultimate solution is what Orlando did," he said.

Not everyone agrees with this approach, however. Shelters that house and 
feed the chronic homeless without any incentive to change lives are not the 
answer, said Ruth Olinger, director of the soon-to-open Jay and Eloise 
Troxel Shelter for Women and Children in downtown Lakeland.

"We're trying to breed independence, not dependence," said Olinger, whose 
parent agency, Lighthouse Ministries, also runs a faith-based shelter for 
men. But, she added, "It solves the merchants' problems."

Whatever the answer, something must be done soon, said Anne Furr, executive 
director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority. "We have people 
bathing in the sinks in some of the restaurants downtown."

Orlando's pavilion on Terry Street, just a block or two from where the 
Orlando Magic basketball players hold court, is a 13,000-square-foot 
concrete slab with partial walls, screens and lots of ceiling fans.

A grid of yellow lines map sleep zones, a touch that shelter operators say 
discourages fights. One dollar a day pays for a cushioned mat, a hot meal 
and shower 365 nights a year.

Heating elements embedded in the floor provide warmth in the winter.

Even the penniless are welcome, but no one gets in after 9 p.m. without 
proof of after-hours employment.

The shelter has its critics, like Orlando City Commissioner Daisy W. Lynum, 
who says it only swells the city's homeless population, who number 6,000 in 
the three-county district of Orange, Osceola and Seminole.

Polk has an estimated 1,800 homeless men, women and children, who are 
concentrated in Lakeland because of its many shelters and churches that 
offer assistance.

Lynum's aide, John Kemper, said Lynum thinks the cluster of shelters in her 
district prohibits business development. "They should be spread throughout 
the region," Kemper said. "I know she would like to see that (pavilion) go."

Advocates counter that 70 percent of pavilion residents suffer symptoms of 
substance abuse, and 30 percent are afflicted with mental health problems. 
They are society's castaways, and the pavilion is their lifeline.

"They (critics) forget what it was like before (the pavilion)," said Jean 
Worrall, who helped bring the shelter to fruition as the former chief 
operating officer of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

The coalition manages the pavilion and other shelter facilities, all located 
on a three-acre site just west of Interstate 4.

Worrall said it takes a staff of nine to run the pavilion, which has an 
annual budget of approximately $300,000 to $400,000.

Chief Diamond has met several times with Lakeland merchants, church leaders 
and social services agencies to address concerns of public feedings in 
downtown parks that encourage loitering and trespassing.

With three homeless agencies on the edge of downtown -- Lighthouse, Talbot 
House and Salvation Army -- Lakeland merchants complain of transients who 
beg for change, bathe in their rest rooms and sleep on their doorsteps.

To curb this behavior, city officials are considering panhandling zones and 
park curfews. Police have stepped up enforcement of laws that prohibit 
trespassing and drinking in public.

Orlando has done all that.

But laws and aggressive enforcement did little to stem the tide of 
transients, said Orlando police Capt. Pete Gauntlett.

The most effective tool for combatting vagrancy, he said, is the pavilion 
and its adjoining park with sheltered picnic tables and lockers where a 
person can store a backpack and other belongings for as little as $2 a week.

"It takes several hundred people off the street each night," said Gauntlett, 
a board member of the Orlando homeless coalition. "It's probably one of the 
best resources our police department has ever had."

Petty offenses have declined and officers are free to concentrate on more 
serious crimes, he said.

Before the pavilion was built, he said, officers responded to a dozen daily 
complaints about vagrants at the downtown public library. Such calls have 
dwindled to fewer than six a week.

That is just one example of the pavilion's affect, Gauntlett said. "We saw a 
40 percent decrease in calls for service relating to homeless complaints."

The pavilion anchors what has developed into a $3.5 million homeless 
complex. In addition to the pavilion and park, the complex includes a 
200-bed transitional shelter for men, women and children, a day care, Head 
Start program, Boys and Girls Club and coalition offices.

At the shelter compound, the homeless have access to restrooms, showers, a 
coin laundry and shade.

The coalition focus is long-term transitional services that help the 
homeless get on their feet and find employment. But for the hundreds of men 
who refuse such help, the pavilion shelter is an oasis.

Area churches take turns feeding an average 500 people each afternoon from 
the pavilion's spartan kitchen.

Homeless volunteers wash dishes, mop floors and keep the grounds manicured 
and clean of litter.

Locker and lodging fees also defray expenses.

About 50 percent of the Orlando coalition's funds come from city, county and 
state sources, with the rest from United Way and private donations.

Because of budget cutbacks and increased competition for federal homeless 
dollars from other Orlando shelters, the coalition has had to pare services 
to the 200-300 men who bed nightly at the pavilion.

They no longer get one-on-one drug and mental-health counseling, although 
that is about to change with an infusion of money from a trust set aside for 
the homeless after the 1995 closing of the Orlando Naval Training Center.

The city plans to redevelop the Navy base for commercial, residential and 
retail use.

Thanks to the federal McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, developers are 
required to set aside dollars for agencies that serve the homeless, in 
exchange for restricting the base's assets for private development, Worrall 
said.

Budget constraints forced the pavilion's managers three years ago to close 
the shelter during the day. Today, men must have a physician's excuse to 
stay on the premises during work hours.

While many men spend days in the adjoining park, some wander downtown, 
although not so many that merchants have made much of a fuss, said the 
coalition's Worrall, assistant to the agency's president.

"They might be around," she said, "but they're not as obvious" because they 
store their bundles in the shelter's lockers.

Worrall said the pavilion offers a modicum of compassion for people who 
rarely get any. "I think we've made a good compromise," she said. "It's kind 
of a trade-off."


Eric Pera can be reached at eric.pera@theledger.com or 863-802-7528.

---End of forwarded article---

~~~Related Web site:

Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida:

http://www.centralfloridahomeless.org/

-- Serving the Orlando Florida area

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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA


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