Longform

Someplace Like Home

Page 6 of 8

Nowadays, Fernandez gets a lot of calls from city officials around the country who want to know more about the Pottinger ruling. Often, they try to incorporate shelter-or-jail language into their city ordinances, hoping they'll stand up to legal challenges. They won't, Fernandez says.

"I tell this to cities all the time. If there is a requirement that you have an alternative, then, in fact, the city is going to have to create an alternative."


About the only person in Miami who'll say the Pottinger ruling didn't force the creation of the HAC system is Alvah Chapman, the retired chairman of Knight-Ridder Inc., parent company of the Miami Herald. From Chapman's perspective, that's certainly true: He got involved in the project simply because he believed it was "the right thing to do." Chapman is the type of businessman Dallas seems to lack: a rich, influential man who used his political connections for a high-profile social cause, backed up his words with cash and didn't ask for any personal favors in return.

Back in the early 1990s, Chapman couldn't stomach the site of the shantytowns, and he was frustrated by the disarray among government and nonprofit agencies that tried to assist the homeless. "They fought over the little scraps that came down through the pipeline," he says.

In 1993, former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles tapped Chapman to run a new commission on homelessness. It was charged with a specific political goal: to twist arms in Tallahassee until the state Legislature passed a new bill that authorized a 1-cent sales tax on Miami restaurants. The bill, which Chapman refers to as a "miracle" because it passed in the final moments of the 1993 Legislature, raises some $8 million a year and covers 80 percent of the HAC's operating budget.

Once the tax was in place, Chapman started hitting up Miami's private sector for cash. He kicked things off by tossing in a half-million dollars of his own money. (Chapman and his wife, Betty, have since donated more than a million to the cause.) Soon, the charitable arms of Miami-area corporations began to pony up cash in big chunks--a half-million here, a million there. Since 1993, Miami's private sector has raised more than $23 million as part of the ongoing campaign.

The combination of a dedicated funding source--the tax--and significant private-sector cash wowed the white shirts at HUD, and federal tax dollars started raining down on Miami. Since 1994, Miami has received more than $108 million in HUD money earmarked for homeless services. (Last year in Dallas, by comparison, city officials bungled their application for $5 million in HUD homeless money and wound up getting a paltry $1.8 million.)

For Chapman, persuading businesses to pay to begin fixing the city's homeless problem wasn't that hard. More difficult was the task of bringing together the city's residents, who turned out in droves to oppose construction of the first HAC. Chapman also had to deal with the city's nonprofit social service providers, who believed they should be the ones to determine how all the money should be spent.

Instead, three new agencies became the bones and muscle of the model. The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, a county agency, is the "umbrella" through which all the public tax dollars pass before they drip down to more than 30 formerly independent social service providers. If a nonprofit agency wants any HUD money for a homeless program, it has to go through the trust to get it.

Chapman, meanwhile, founded Community Partnership for Homeless, Inc. or CPHI, a nonprofit organization that operates the HACs and ensures that the private sector continues to cover its 20 percent share of the bill. CPHI's board of directors, a who's who of Miami's business community, is also a natural check that keeps the trust in balance.

Last, there is a "provider's forum" where the network's nonprofit partners can discuss their problems. One partner who isn't shy about airing her complaints is Livia Garcia, director of Miami Homeless Assistance Program, home of the green shirts.

Garcia, who started her outfit in 1991 from inside a car, knows what it takes to get homeless people off the streets: If a chronic addict isn't admitted into rehab within two weeks of entering the HAC, he's sure to relapse. The HACs are nice, Garcia says, but they're too big, and the money they spend on classrooms and life skills courses would be better spent creating new drug rehab centers or supportive housing for the mentally ill.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley

Latest Stories