RIO GRANDE – Daniel McDonald is a Tampa, Fla. police officer who was given a mandate by his boss in 2012 to attack the vast homeless problem in his area. He was given no budget and no help. Since that time, the program he implemented has cut homelessness by 50 percent.
McDonald told members at a public meeting at Rio Grande Fire Hall Jan. 16 that the answer he discovered to the problem of homelessness was to provide them homes. He delivered the same message earlier in the day to a meeting of public officials and workers who provide services to the homeless. Both were hosted by Cape Assist, in collaboration with freeholders, Cape May County Chiefs of Police Association and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I was tasked with finding an answer to the problem, not to address the symptoms. The answer is to get them housing first and address any other issues after that,” McDonald said.
McDonald offered a five-step program for ending homelessness.
“First is prevention. Keep people out of the homelessness cycle. I had one person who had left home because she had an argument with her sister. She had only been out on the street for a day or two. We went to her sister’s home and they settled their differences and the woman moved back in,” said McDonald.
Other steps include outreach, going out and contacting the homeless and assessing their needs; emergency shelter, with low-barrier access to permanent housing; rapid rehousing, which may include short-term rental assistance, and finally, permanent supportive housing that includes long-term housing and wrap-around services that address issues like mental health and addiction.
McDonald explained that homelessness is costlier than providing housing.
“The cost to provide for a homeless person is $30,000. It only cost about $12,000 per year to provide for someone who has housing. If I can’t appeal to your sense of humanity, I’ll appeal to the practical side,” said McDonald.
McDonald warned against homeless shelters as an answer to homelessness unless it leads to permanent housing.
“Shelters need to provide temporary housing that does not require a laundry list of program completions. The shelter should be a gateway to providing housing quickly,” he explained.
Solving the local homeless problem will involve key players in the issue, including the community, law enforcement, churches, non-profit organizations, and service providers.
“You will need someone to take the reins of this initiative, whether that is an organization or an individual,” McDonald explained.
Funding for providing housing will come from several sources, McDonald said, including the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), state and local government programs and private donations.
Finding affordable rental properties in Cape May County has always been an issue, but McDonald said that is true in most places.
“You have to create affordable housing. Make it worth it to the landlord. Employ churches and non-profits to perhaps purchase or build rental properties. We’ve seen medical facilities build affordable housing because it lowers medical costs. There are options,” he said.
Not having to start at square one is a big advantage to addressing the homeless issue, McDonald told the crowd of over 100 people.
“These programs have been in place since the 1980s and 90s. We know how to solve homelessness.”
The forum was opened for questions and some asked whether a homeless shelter like the Atlantic City Rescue Mission should be opened, whether homeless should be given second chances when they continue “to mess up” and how much money is needed to implement programs to provide housing?
McDonald restated what he had said previously about those issues, the housing first position.
Some of the public officials in the audience praised McDonald for presenting his ideas at the forum.
“I’m excited to see so many people here tonight. Capt. McDonald has been nationally recognized for his work related to homelessness in Tampa. I view this as a first step to learn from what other communities have done across the country to make an impact,” said Middle Township Chief of Police Christopher Leusner.
After the meeting, Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said the forum raised some good issues and said the freeholder board is committed to helping end the homelessness problem.
“We are more than willing to support these programs. We have given funds to Middle Township, Lower Township and the Wildwoods to help with Code Blue. We’ll continue to do everything we can to help,” Thornton said.
McDonald’s homeless solutions have received worldwide coverage. His work has been featured on “The Today Show,” BBC “Radio 5,” “Inside Edition,” ABC News, CNN, “People Magazine,” “Huffington Post,” “Tampa Tribune,” “Tampa Bay Times,” “Times of India,” “Daily Mail” (London), “Herald Sun” (Australia) and RTL Television (Germany).
He has received several awards including Officer of the Month, the Housing and Education Alliance Community Hero award, as well as commendations from the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners for service to the citizens of Hillsborough County, Fla. and the Tampa City Council.
In 2016 and 2017, he was nominated for the Distinguished Service Award by the Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency (FCCD), as well as the CNN Hero Award.
McDonald was born in Stockport, England. He received a BA in Geography from Boston University. He also received a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the University of South Florida.
To contact Carl Price, email email@example.com.