Case Study: Orlando’s Turnaround on Homelessness

Leading Homelessness in Central Florida

In 2013, when Andrae Bailey became CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, Metropolitan Orlando was the worst midsized city in America for chronic homelessness, according to the federal government.

But in a period of just 36 months, Orlando was able to turn its situation around. Driven by a strong spirit of collaboration among key leaders, homelessness was reduced by more than 50 percent. This amazing feat was realized by systematically implementing the following 12 critical dynamics for solving the problem of homelessness.


Personal involvement by the top elected officials in the community

In 2014, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer made a public commitment to begin the process of ending homelessness in Central Florida, and he made chronic homelessness the primary target of his commitment and resolve.

Dyer’s sincerity was made evident in a public pledge to house 300 chronically homeless individuals within the first 3 years of his public initiative, and he also promised to contribute $4 million from the city’s treasury to the cause of ending homelessness.

Learn more from Mayor Dyer:


Determined engagement by leaders within the business community

Because of the efforts of the Central Florida Partnership (Orlando’s local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce) and its leader, Jacob Stuart, the business community in Orlando made a solution to homelessness one of its primary pursuits.

Consequently, business leaders in the city became one of the key driving forces behind Orlando’s successful efforts to solve chronic homelessness. In 2014 the Central Florida Partnership sponsored the Central Florida Regional Leadership Forum, a gathering of civic leaders for the purpose of “working together to end chronic homelessness.” And that forum led to increased involvement by business leaders in the effort to solve the problem of homelessness in the Greater Orlando area.



Harnessing the moral voices of faith leaders

The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness focused early on building a “faith collaborative” in Orlando that would be instrumental in leading the moral campaign to end homelessness, eventually building this network into a membership of 300 pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams.

Periodic meetings and constant communications were utilized to keep these spiritual leaders “in the loop” regarding everything the Commission was doing to confront homelessness and to house the homeless in the tri-county area (Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties). These meetings and communications also served as appropriate forums for the community’s spiritual leaders to give their input into the emerging strategy for ending homelessness locally.

Learn more from Dr. David Swanson, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Downtown Orlando:



Building partnerships with communities that have already made progress

Andrae Bailey, CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, invited more than a dozen experts from around the country to speak to his community’s most influential leaders about homelessness and the best ways of combating homelessness.

In addition, the Central Florida Partnership sponsored two trips in a 3-year period for civic and business leaders in the city who were interested in visiting other communities where the most innovative methods of dealing with homelessness were producing the most prolific results. Bailey himself visited 14 cities during the first six months as CEO to meet with leaders in those cities that were making the most progress toward ending homelessness.



The careful analysis of ongoing expenditures and future financial needs

A 2016 assessment of government spending by Barbara Poppe & Associates found that Orange County, Florida (Greater Orlando) spent approximately $7.7 million per year on homelessness, but that 44 percent of that money was being spent in a wasteful or nonproductive manner.

Although this bad news was not easy to accept, especially for the Orange County mayor, the honest assessment of the county’s spending habits led to a re-appropriation of funds, which eventually gave rise to a more efficient funding model for countywide efforts to end homelessness.

This same sense of transparency and accountability has governed the creation of the Homeless Impact Fund, which was established by the Central Florida Foundation in 2014 for the purpose of underwriting parts of Orlando’s strategy to end homelessness. The constant, ongoing assessment of expenditures and the scrutiny of supported programs gave contributors to this charitable fund a heightened sense of confidence in a collaborative effort that has attracted numerous multi-million-dollar contributions.



The adoption of the “housing first” model as the best strategy for combating homelessness

In 2013, when Orlando was ranked the worst midsized city in America for chronic homelessness, city and county officials did not have a positive view of the “housing first” model. In fact, at that time, the mayor of Orlando had not even heard of this innovative approach to homelessness. So the official adoption of the “housing first” model by the city as its public policy was a giant step forward in Orlando’s efforts to address the homeless issue.

Upon learning about the virtues and success rates of the “housing first” approach to homelessness, Orlando city officials quickly made “housing first” both the policy and the strategy of local government.



Public advocacy that changes beliefs

In Orlando, the Rethink Homelessness campaign utilized every effective mode of communication for reaching the audiences that had to be impacted.

For instance, the campaign targeted traditional media outlets like newspapers (30 articles in 30 months), magazines, radio, television, and even billboards to disseminate its message. The Commission used social media outlets, as well, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and they developed an interactive website for their organization.

The campaign’s “Cardboard Stories” video was particularly effective, generating more than 6 million views on YouTube.


In addition to its traditional and social media campaigns, the Commission conducted a steady stream of “live events” for various stakeholders, including large events for cross-sector leaders and smaller, more intimate events for key leaders from specific sectors like the business community, the faith community, the philanthropic community, law enforcement, mental health, the criminal justice system, and other topic-specific groups that had a vested interest in solving the homeless problem in Orlando.


The active participation of the community’s philanthropic sector

In 2014, the Central Florida Foundation, under the leadership of Mark Brewer, created the Homeless Impact Fund, a fund designed to underwrite evidence-based efforts to change the course of homelessness in the Greater Orlando area.

The fund is supported by more than 60 philanthropic organizations that had never worked together on any social issue prior to the creation of the fund. These organizations included community-minded companies like Walt Disney World, Darden Restaurants, Florida Hospital, and the Orlando Magic. All groups in this collaborative meet regularly to discuss how they can most effectively coordinate their funding of homeless initiatives in the area, and this cooperation and accountability has led to measurable advances in the effort to end homelessness.

Learn more from Mark Brewer, President of the Central Florida Foundation:


A focus on veterans and the chronically homeless

The City of Orlando was able to house approximately 1000 homeless veterans in a 3-year period of time, effectively ending veteran homelessness in the city according to the Veterans Administration.

During this same timespan, hundreds of chronically homeless people were housed.  This is important, because veterans and the chronically homeless are the most visible and most vulnerable among the homeless population. Early progress in combating homelessness on these fronts can create momentum for tackling other forms of homelessness in the community.



The creation of a permanent governing structure that can continue the work

While Orlando has made tremendous progress in its efforts to end homelessness, progress that has been described as “historic” by a former head of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the formation of a governing structure that can perpetuate this effort is a work in progress for the city.

Orlando stands at a crossroads, and the city must now decide if it will solidify and build upon its past gains by working to permanently resolve their homeless problem.



The utilization of data to assess progress and to create transparency and accountability

If a community cannot measure a problem, that community can never truly solve that problem.

Transparency and accountability based on hard data will always yield good results, because good, accurate data—data that tells the story of real people and the real urgency of saving their lives—can show homeless strategists where to invest their time and money, which steps they should take next, and how they can hold themselves and local providers accountable for real results.



A resource strategy to actually end homelessness

Unlike the eleven dynamics that precede it, this dynamic is positioned last in the list for a reason, because the implementation of this dynamic is contingent upon the successful implementation of the first eleven dynamics of social change.

When a community’s top elected officials are dedicated to solving the homeless problem, when business leaders are finally bringing accountability into the discussion, when an aggressive advocacy campaign has successfully changed local beliefs on homelessness, and when a governing structure has been created to devise real strategies and to make homelessness a meaningful focus of the community at large, then a case can be made for a community to invest the adequate resources that can actually end homelessness in that locality.



Orlando Leads Homelessness in the Media


Traditional media and social media presence combine to form a powerful force for public attention.

Early news stories and columns called attention to the problem and advocated for solutions that could make an impact; later in the campaign, media entities also provided a valuable platform for spreading the word about the tangible impact of those solutions.

The story of ending homelessness in Central Florida proved to be such a powerful narrative that both Orlando Sentinel readers and the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board highlighted it as the #1 local story of 2015.

Scroll through the articles below to explore this small sampling of the coverage about homelessness in Central Florida between 2013-2016:



Video Storytelling

Profound video stories were the centerpiece of the Rethink Homelessness campaign. By using videos to tell the stories of homeless men and women — and the stories of community leaders who were trying to end homelessness — the campaign was able to capture the interest of the public on social media and the Internet.


Homelessness Research in Central Florida

Understanding homelessness and finding solutions demands high-quality data. Under Andrae Bailey’s leadership, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness produced a range of reports highlighting the problem and possible paths forward.


Results of Rethinking Homelessness in Orlando

Ending homelessness is measured by the number of people who are moved off the street and into housing — and the number of people who are able to stay in their newly provided housing.

Housing the First 100

A generous $6 million donation from Florida Hospital funded the first permanent supportive housing pilot program through the Homeless Impact Fund. The pilot, which was overseen by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, the Continuum of Care, and the Central Florida Foundation, sought to house the most vulnerable 100 chronically homeless men and women in the region and report on their progress after one year.

The results of the pilot after one year are detailed on the right. More than 150 men and women were housed through the pilot program, and all of them remained housed at the end of one year. 94% of participants in the program were able to maintain or increase their income.

Additionally, Florida Hospital reported that the program participants — all of whom had been “frequent flyers” in the emergency rooms because of medical conditions — decreased the quantity of their ER visits by 57%.

2017 Progress

In 2017 — over a year after the efforts detailed here — the Continuum of Care reported the following results:

  • 224 people experiencing chronic homelessness moved into permanent supportive housing (PSH), bringing the total living in PSH to 810 during the year (more than 750 living in projects that use the Coordinated Entry System), and
  • Over 1,100 veterans in permanent housing in the past four years.


Celebrating Milestones in the Media

The following media entities covered the significant progress made by Orlando leaders in ending homelessness.



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