Central Florida has money to help the home­less, if only it would give ... rad­i­cally

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By David Swan­son

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.