Central Florida has money to help the homeless, if only it would give ... radically
Over the past seven years, it has been my humbling privilege to serve on the board of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, the last 15 months as the managing chair.
As my tenure comes to a close this month, and as the Commission moves in an exciting new direction, I am grateful for the enormous progress made, but we must acknowledge the persistent, ongoing challenges.
On the success side, our collaborative effort has resulted in housing more than 700 chronically homeless individuals, including more than 300 veterans. As we continue to see the horrible conditions which currently exist in West Coast cities that chose a different approach, this achievement cannot be underestimated. However, tent cities and tarps could still appear in Central Florida if we do not remain committed to our new system of care and its funding.
As a local faith leader grounded in the Christian tradition, the principle of the “tithe” has always been part of how I believe communities should function. In the Old Testament, a certain amount was set aside for the care of the less fortunate, the “widow, the orphan, and the stranger.” (Deuteronomy 10:18) People were encouraged to work and earn, but there was always a bent toward a generous heart. It was not a focus on me, but we. It was community over self.
Sadly, with the rise of what David Brooks of calls “hyper-individualism,” we have lost that notion.
My prayer is that Central Florida could turn that tide and become a national model for community generosity. Don’t get me wrong: we have wonderfully benevolent people and many generous organizations who sacrificially give to help others. Collectively, however, we could and must do better.
I was saddened to read in the
of a recent national Lending Tree study on charitable giving. It found that charitable giving on the whole was decreasing, in large part because of personal indebtedness. We owe so much we can no longer afford to give. Also, more dollars were given to animal causes than any other single need. I love my dog as much as the next person, but seriously? Animals, not humans?
As I have long said, the fact that nearly 100 homeless people die each year says more about who we are as a community than it does about those who died. I want to live in a community that values others over self, that minimizes greed in favor of achieving a higher common good. This is not a social issue; it is a moral one. What’s more, we absolutely have the money. We’re just not giving it.
We’ve enthusiastically granted money for projects that benefit us — athletic stadiums and performing arts centers, better roads and higher paying jobs. We love those things. I love those things. Such choices drive economic benefit. They make our community better, no doubt, but it smells rotten when those making money have little heart for generosity.
In a phone call with Rich Maladecki, CEO of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, I asked him why so little of our tourist tax money ($279 million this year) was spent on human need. He said it was simply not fair. No single industry should have to put the needs of the homeless on their back. I completely agree with that, but collectively, why could those needs not be put on all of our backs?
What if the lawyers association and the medical association and the tourism industry and the entertainment industry and the real estate industry all took a page from the church playbook and became radically generous? What if they gave away 10% of their profit? Our church does. Many churches do and far more.
I know. Eye roll. It’ll never happen. Perhaps, but with good leadership comes vision and money always follows vision. I’d love to see the tourism industry say, “You know what? We get it. We’re not taking the whole burden, but we’re in for X.” Then, lead. Lead. Challenge other industries to do the same, and before you know it, the problem is solved. We have the money. The community cost to keep our homeless housed is roughly $2 million per year. That number will grow as we house more each year, but that’s absolute peanuts compared to what is being generated in Central Florida.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said last year that “homelessness is, hands down, the hardest issue I have had to deal with as mayor.” It is, but together, we can continue our progress. We can be a community known for innovative solutions as well as collaborative public/private/faith funding partnerships.
First Presbyterian Church of Orlando gives $200,000 a year to this cause. What can your industry do, not just on homelessness, but on any pressing human need? With the right leadership and generous hearts, we can and we will make a difference.
I hope you’ll join me.