Housing the Homeless Could Save Floridians Millions of Dollars Each Year

Florida’s homeless population ranks third largest in the nation. The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report estimated that nearly 36,000 adults in Florida were homeless and Florida public schools reported an astounding 73,322 children as homeless or having unstable housing last year. Homelessness not only affects the individuals and families living in poverty, but also impacts the local and state economy and future prosperity.

A recent study found that the cost of chronic homelessness in Central Florida is estimated to be $31,000 per person per year in healthcare, law enforcement, education, social services, and substance abuse and mental health program expenses. The same study reported that providing affordable housing and case management for this population has an estimated cost of $10,000 per person per year, representing potential savings of millions of dollars to taxpayers in the future. Several companies and organizations, like Central Florida Partnership, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo, have partnered on initiatives to end homelessness in Florida.

Jobs and education create equal opportunity and hope for all Floridians, including our most vulnerable residents. How will your business and your community lead the effort to break the cycle of generational poverty and reduce chronic homelessness?

1 in 4 Florida Children Are Living in Poverty

Almost half of all children born in poverty remain in poor economic conditions into adulthood, and in Florida, 1 in 4 Florida children are living in poverty. The cost of child poverty is an estimated $500 billion a year in lost productivity and increased spending on health care and the criminal justice system.

At last week’s Future of Florida Forum, business leaders accepted the challenge to focus on prosperity as an economic driver and find solutions to curb generational poverty. Do you know how many families are homeless in your community? If we are going to help solve the poverty problem, leadership must come from the business community, not just the tax base.

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Economic Freedom is Key to Greater Opportunities for All

Without question, the American Dream is under attack. Unions and big government advocates want to mandate wages, while George Soros and his cronies argue the “one percenters” are the problem with society.

Sadly, what they don’t tell you is that their “solution” to the problem is limiting economic freedom and opportunities for millions of Americans who are stuck in generational poverty.

Consider for example, their theory that the top “one percenters” are the problem. If that’s true, then barbers, nurses, construction workers, truck drivers and teachers are among those at the root of the problem. Let me explain.

The top one percent of wage earners worldwide earn $34,000 or more. That doesn’t exactly fit the union’s storyline so they simply omit the truth. Yet in Florida, more than four million people earn more than that. In fact, more than half of working Floridians earn $41,000.

These Floridians are working hard, climbing the ladder of opportunity and creating prosperity for themselves, their families and their communities. Competition for the best private-sector products and services has allowed them to compete for higher wages, better benefits and upward mobility.

While those pushing so called “income equality” use talking points to tear down job creators and malign Florida’s wage earners, we should instead focus on the real issue – how to extend prosperity and opportunity to more, especially those stuck in the cycle of generational poverty.

Right now, approximately five million Floridians are on food stamps, and more than half of all Florida students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. Homelessness is still a persistent issue in our urban areas, and while it may be hard to believe, one in five Florida students is homeless.

Affordable housing and access to transportation are basic needs that far too many must deal with on a daily basis. And sadly, zip codes are still a determining factor in the quality of education our students receive despite significant gains we’ve made to prevent this. Incredibly, unions are going to court to take options away from children and families.

Regardless of zip codes, we must focus on smarter public policy that puts students ahead of unions, invests in early childhood education and on creating the next generation of workers and innovators. With more than 50,000 higher-paying STEM-related jobs unfilled in Florida today, we can help break generational poverty by closing the skills gap and making the American dream available to all.

Let’s face it, there is simply no substitute for a quality education. Yet there are still far too many who will not graduate, and studies show that 40 percent of students with mothers who didn’t graduate from high school also didn’t graduate from high school by age 19. Oftentimes, crime enters the picture. In Florida, we spend more than $2 billion annually to house more than 100,000 prisoners in 55 state prisons. And when prisoners are released, sadly one of every three returns to prison within three years.

We can break this cycle and create greater opportunities for the next generation. By removing the shackles of big government entitlement programs that are holding the poorest of the poor back, incorporating greater educational opportunities and allowing free enterprise to create more private-sector jobs, we can make generational poverty a thing of the past and the American Dream of economic freedom a reality. When Floridians have more opportunity, Florida wins.