Via Orlando Sentinel – The ushering in of Donald Trump’s presidency means a sea change in Washington. In the context of this seismic change, I believe that Central Florida in particular and Florida as a whole should stand at the forefront of changes that touch upon perplexing social issues like homelessness.
I am a big fan of what Central Florida has done to bring its community together on homelessness — the advocacy, collaboration and bipartisan commitment demonstrated were necessary prerequisites to this progress. President-elect Trump should look to two familiar faces in your community, Andrae Bailey, the outgoing CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, and Mel Martinez, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary and current chairman for JPMorgan Chase, Southeast U.S., for wise counsel on how to replicate this model within the new administration.
As the policy leader on homelessness for President Obama, I learned quickly that creating policy is not just about having the right answer to a problem. Sometimes, solving the problem is more about the right messenger, a messenger who can convey the path forward in language that leaders with differing points of view can understand and embrace. That is why leaders from Central Florida would be a perfect fit as advisers on this issue to the clearly nontraditional Trump administration that identifies itself as “conservative.”
Bailey, for example, proved he could work with leaders like me who are more left-leaning, even though he is a lifelong conservative. A person’s political affiliation shouldn’t matter when we are trying to solve difficult social issues that affect us all, issues like affordable housing, poverty and homelessness. But let’s not be naïve; these things do matter in Washington. And that’s why Bailey would be a great resource on this issue. His success in Orlando came from reaching leaders who normally don’t collectively engage on social issues, leaders who come from the business and faith community, as well as elected officials.
Martinez reinvigorated the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness during the administration of President George W. Bush and launched the national Housing First movement to end chronic homelessness. Under Martinez’s watch, more than 300 communities engaged in creating public-private partnerships to build permanent supportive housing, a cost-effective solution to chronic homelessness. Martinez has strong conservative credentials, yet he is also a dealmaker who works across ideological and political lines to forge practical and actionable solutions to difficult problems.
This past year, Gov. Rick Scott connected to the cause of ending homelessness by signing the first legislation on Housing First in the state’s history. And this move by the governor was a direct result of his association with Bailey and Martinez. But the governor’s interest in homelessness was awakened, not because Bailey and Martinez possessed answers that others did not have; it awakened because they approached the effort to end homelessness from a business and faith perspective. That might be the message on homelessness that resonates with Trump and his team.
We must keep this important work moving forward, no matter who sits in the White House. We have a moral obligation as Americans to ensure that no one — no veteran, no child, no young person, no senior citizen, no person with a disability — is homeless and alone on the streets of our nation. Just having a moral call to action won’t make our nation’s capital get to work on this issue. Unless advocates make the solid business case and show the Trump administration how to put its own imprint on the issue, the partnership at the federal level could be relegated to obscurity and we could again see homelessness rise across our land.
When I meet people who were once homeless and whose lives have been transformed with a little help from our people and our government, I am energized to move beyond my disappointment in the outcome of this presidential election and instead to ensure the progress we have made toward preventing and ending homelessness continues. I am energized by people like Bailey and Martinez, who, regardless of their political ideals, find homelessness unacceptable in the wealthiest nation on Earth.
Once again, Florida played a leading role in the election of our new president. I believe that Florida should be in the forefront of the effort to end homelessness.
Barbara Poppe served as President Obama’s point person on homelessness and the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2009-2014. She now leads an independent national consulting firm, Barbara Poppe and Associates, which works in more than 20 communities, including Central Florida.