Housing Florida’s Homeless

Stephen Overton housingOn any given night in January of 2014, there were approximately 578,424 individuals experiencing homelessness. This means these people were either sleeping in the streets, spending the night at an emergency shelter, or in a transitional housing program. It’s clear that homelessness is an issue, and Ability Housing, a nonprofit based out of Jacksonville, is leading the charge to improve life for the homeless.

Founded in 1992, Ability Housing was originally a group home for individuals living with development disabilities. Today it is a nonprofit with a focus on the development and operation of quality affordable rental housing for people, and families experiencing (or at risk for) homelessness, and adults with disabilities. Ability Housing’s mission is to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods affected by damaging rental properties; improve the quality of life of the residents, neighborhood and larger community; preserve the existing affordable housing; improve neighborhood real estate values; provide housing to local vulnerable households; and provide a permanent solution to the local homelessness crisis. All of Ability Housing’s residents earn 80% or less than the area median income, and are therefore low-income. In fact, most of them earn less than 50%, and some, those who are extremely low-income, earn 30% less than the area median income.

At the end of 2015, Ability Housing was awarded a $150,000 grant to continue their cause. This gift from the Florida Blue Foundation will allow them to conduct research about the return on investment of providing the homeless with stable homes. Ability Housing’s Executive Director, Shannon Nazworth said the state is spending more on the homeless in the form of emergency stays and prison stays than they would if they homeless had stable homes. These expenditures are also counterproductive, because they don’t contribute to the stabilization of the individual. There is no Florida-specific data to prove this, so Ability Housing has launched “The Solution that Saves.” This three-year pilot study will gather data demonstrating that the return on investment is greater when a homeless individual is provided a stable home. Multiple state agencies are involved in the program, including Florida’s Department of Health, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ability Housing’s own tenants are volunteering in the study, some of which are living in the nonprofit’s newest apartment complex. I commend Ability Housing for taking the initiative to create solutions for a larger problem. Creating more opportunities for the homeless will only lead to more advancements for the larger Florida community.