By Barbara Poppe –
A change in presidential leadership means a change in policy and direction on issues that matter most to people. The ushering in of the presidency of Donald Trump means a sea change in leadership at all levels in Washington—a change like nothing we have seen in modern American history. But in the context of this seismic change, I believe that Central Florida in particular and the state of Florida as a whole should stand at the forefront of many of these expected changes, particularly those changes that touch upon perplexing social issues like homelessness. And I believe that our local and statewide work on homelessness should be an area of special focus as changes are being considered.
I have said before (see previous article in the Orlando Sentinel) that I am a big fan of what Central Florida has done to bring its community together on homelessness and that the advocacy, collaboration, and bipartisan commitment you have demonstrated here were necessary prerequisites to this progress. This is the model that Washington needs to adopt as a new administration moves forward on the issue of homelessness. I believe that the Trump administration should look for direction and vision on this issue from two familiar faces in your community, outgoing CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, Andrae Bailey, and former HUD Secretary and current chairman for JPMorgan Chase, Southeast U.S., Mel Martinez.
As the former head for the work of homelessness for the Obama administration, I learned very quickly that creating policy is not always about having the right answer to a problem that confronts society. Sometimes, solving the problem is more about the right messenger, a messenger who can convey the path forward in a language that leaders with differing points of view can understand and embrace. And that is why leaders from the Central Florida community would be a perfect fit as advisors on this issue to the clearly nontraditional Trump administration, an administration that openly identifies itself as “conservative.”
Bailey, for example, proved he could work with leaders like me who are more left leaning in their views, even though he is a lifelong conservative. Actually, a person’s political affiliation shouldn’t matter when we are trying to collaborate to solve difficult social issues that affect us all, issues like affordable housing, poverty, and homelessness. But let’s not be naïve here; these things do matter to leaders in Washington. And that’s why Bailey would be perfect as a resource on this issue. Andrae Bailey’s success in Orlando largely came from his ability to reach leaders that normally don’t engage social issues, leaders who come from the business community and faith community, as well as the community of elected officials. That is why I and other national leaders on homelessness marveled at not just the number of stakeholders Bailey brought to the table on this issue, but also the number of Republicans he added to the mission and the number of religious leaders who normally do not find themselves working with others to construct solutions to the homeless problem.
Martinez, on the other hand, 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 became engaged and active in creating local public-private partnerships to build permanent supportive housing for the homeless, a cost-efficient and 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, Governor Rick Scott connected to the cause of ending homelessness statewide 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 these two men approached the effort to end homelessness from a business and faith perspective. And that might be the perfect message or the only message on homelessness that resonates with President-elect 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. But just having a moral call to action won’t make our nation’s capital get to work on this issue. Unless advocates can make a solid business case for fighting this terrible social malady and unless they can 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 the numbers of homeless people rise across our land.
When I travel this country and meet people who were once homeless, people 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 recent presidential election and instead to look for ways to ensure we continue the progress we have made toward preventing and ending homelessness. And I am energized because I know that there are people out there like Andrae Bailey and Mel 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 this state should also play a leading role in solving one of our country’s most pressing problems. 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 United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2009-2014. She now leads an independent national consulting firm, Barbara Poppe and Associates, which works in more than twenty communities, including Central Florida.