By Sally Gress
A group that included local politicians, donors, business leaders and members of law enforcement and the media gathered recently to dedicate The Fort Lauderdale Area Command’s Open Door Project. A representative from Congressman Alcee Hastings office presented a plaque commending The Salvation Army for its work in Broward County. The commendation was recorded in the Congressional Record by Congressman Hastings, who is the co- founder and co- chairman of the Congressional Homelessness Caucus. Romney Rogers, the Vice Mayor of the City of Ft. Lauderdale also presented a City proclamation at the event.
Open Door is a new program designed to offer overnight shelter to chronically homeless individuals who are not eligible for acceptance into traditional shelters. Forty-five cots are available on a first come, first served basis each night.
Many of these homeless men and women who will stay at the shelter have lost trust in the “system.” The Salvation Army’s Open Door Project is a low demand shelter, which removes the stringent requirements of most homeless facilities. With this more forgiving housing option, individuals who may be suffering from alcohol or drug abuse or mental illness, are given a safer alternative to sleeping on the streets.
“Open Door is a harm reduction measure,” explainedArea Commander Major Luis Viera. “Although individuals are not allowed to engage in drug or alcohol activities on site, they will not be turned away because of their usage. “We know from experience that no one wants to be homeless. Our hope is that over time and in small increments clients will begin to develop trust in caseworkers and may be willing to take advantage of services offered that will help them attain permanent housing.”
“The ultimate goal of this program is to provide safety, build trust and reduce the number of people sleeping on the streets of downtown Ft. Lauderdale,” said Curt Nichols, member of the Advisory Board for the Salvation Army of Broward County. “The Open Door Project was the vision of Major Gene Hogg who served in Ft. Lauderdale from 2010 to 2013. The project was started under his leadership and, with a lot of work from the staff and board, has finally come to fruition.”
“Most shelters require guests to provide an array of personal data,” explained Major Viera. “For some homeless people, especially those who have been on the street for a length of time, a lack of trust keeps them from seeking shelter.”
The Open Door Project, according to Major Viera, will benefit the community at large by giving homeless individuals previously thought to be hopeless a warm place to stay and an opportunity to move forward. Getting people off of the streets at night also helps to reduce medical emergencies and police encounters. On any given night more than 800 people are sleeping on the streets of Broward County. More than 50 percent of the unsheltered homeless people are located in the neighborhoods bordering and leading into the downtown Fort Lauderdale area, the area where The Salvation Army facility is located. While the Open Door Project isn’t a total long term answer to chronic homelessness, it is a partial solution for the community and for those who sleep on the streets.
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