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Florida’s Homeless Need Treatment First, Not Housing First

This piece first appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on January 31, 2024.

Florida has earned an impressive record on improving homelessness over the last decade—but that record is eroding quickly. In 2013, Florida had one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country—on par with California, Oregon, and Washington. Within five years, Florida had transformed this crisis into a manageable situation. Nationally, the situation worsened.

Part of Florida’s unique success was an unprecedented expansion of mental and behavioral health treatment for the state’s most vulnerable people. Florida’s use of involuntary civil commitment laws—which compel treatment for people who are too mentally unwell or unwilling to accept care voluntarily—enabled thousands of people struggling alone on the streets to stabilize and recover.

Between 2012 and 2018, Florida expanded this type of treatment by more than 20 percent and helped an estimated additional 50,000 people receive care. Alongside the expansion of mental health treatment for the highest-need individuals, Florida’s short-term shelter capacity increased by 25 percent. As a result, fewer people were left on the street.

Read the full piece in the Orlando Sentinel.