WE ALL DESERVE A PLACE TO CALL HOME

We all deserve a place to call home and to be treated with dignity and respect – including those experiencing homelessness. Being homeless is not a crime, and arresting those who are is not the solution. We know that countless people are just one paycheck away from being homeless. No one chooses to be homeless. It can affect anyone at any time and does not have to be a permanent condition. Jailing the homeless is the least effective and most costly way of providing social services. We need to explore ways of providing shelter and support services to this already fragile population. A strict enforcement or arrest approach will not solve the problem but will only continue the cycle of homelessness.

Today, there are approximately 2,900 people in Broward County experiencing homelessness. The many causes include substance abuse, mental health issues and family disintegration, as well as a history of poor decisions and sometimes circumstances that are just beyond one’s control. The Broward Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Initiative includes an agency wide mission to guide our deputies who come into contact with the homeless. The initiative provides deputies with homeless awareness training and the knowledge to navigate through the complexities of the social services system. This initiative encourages collaborations and partnerships between law enforcement, social service agencies and advocates for the homeless. These partnerships are designed to link those experiencing homelessness with appropriate social services while treating the homeless with dignity and respect.

I began the Homeless Outreach Team Specialist Course in 2013 and presently offer this training twice a year. Currently, we have 29 certified specialists and plan to add more than a dozen this year. H.O.T. training is now available to other law enforcement agencies and recently, officers from municipalities including Lauderhill, Davie and Hollywood have been certified.

The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is a new way to quickly assess what treatment an individual has received, what has or hasn’t worked and what alternative is recommended, offering a better chance of getting an individual off the streets permanently.

As sheriff, I believe homeless people aren’t problem people; they are people with problems that can be assisted with compassion and understanding from our community. We can end the cycle of homelessness – not through a handout, but with a helping hand. Through the assistance of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Team, we can help these individuals help themselves to reclaim and regain their lives, and that is the right thing to do.

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