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In 2015, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) worked with a wide network of community partners to continue transforming the lives of homeless Veterans, families and children, as well as the chronically homeless. For decades, Orange County has been the leading provider of homeless services in the region, budgeting more than $5 million annually. In 2015 another $2 million was added to that annual amount, and the County partnered with the City of Orlando to help attract new federal grants for the region to house the chronically homeless and families.

The quest to lift families, Veterans and individuals out of homelessness is a regional effort, and is built on the tireless work of an integrated partnership between the elected officials, agency, charitable and church leaders from Osceola, Seminole and Orange counties, the cities of Orlando, Kissimmee and Sanford, and countless philanthropy and social service partners. Through the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness (CFCH), a nonprofit regional commission that is committed to eradicating homelessness in Central Florida, and that is co-chaired by elected officials from throughout the region, Orange County is able to leverage its collective efforts. Thanks to the collaborative work of many nonprofits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic initiatives, private-sector businesses, and charitable and community organizations, our region is making a huge impact on homelessness.

In January, Orange County welcomed a new residential facility for 250 single homeless men. Mayor Jacobs joined Brent Trotter, CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless, and more than 200 members of the community to celebrate the grand opening of the Men’s Service Center at Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. More than a place to sleep, the two-story, 32,000-square-foot facility helps men transition to self-sufficiency by providing case management, access to mental-health services and job-skills training. In addition, there is an initiative directed toward homeless Veterans and providing beds for the physically disabled, with 50 beds dedicated to substance and alcohol-abuse recovery.

In February, Orange County hosted a joint meeting with the CFCH and the Orange County Homelessness Committee, chaired by Dick Batchelor, to learn about a successful program in Utah. Lloyd Pendleton, former director of the Homeless Task Force for the state of Utah, facilitated the meeting and shared his state's successes on a centrally led and locally developed strategy to defeat long-term homelessness.

Continuing her commitment to creating a better future for citizens struggling with homelessness, Mayor Jacobs addressed national and regional homeless advocates in March to announce a 59 percent decrease in Veterans’ homelessness in Central Florida, since 2011. The total number of homeless in the tri-county area dropped due to the Veterans Administration’s shift to a “Housing First” model, according to a study of the issue completed for the CFCH. Once Veterans have an address, they can receive treatment for other issues through case management and other services.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness featured Mayor Jacobs and Central Florida’s efforts to reduce veteran homelessness by highlighting the event. The goal announced at the meeting was to end Veterans’ homelessness by 2015.

To meet that goal, hundreds of volunteers surveyed Central Florida homeless during the week of July 20 for the “Veterans Surge.” The survey was used to create a registry of Veterans, and eventually, to place them in permanent housing. The initiative was led by the CFCH in collaboration with the local Veterans Affairs (VA), the nonprofit Homeless Services Network (HSN), Heart of Florida United Way’s “Mission United” initiative, the faith community, political leaders and other nonprofits. During the Surge, trained volunteers engaged as teams to fill out questionnaires with the homeless on the streets, or in identified hot spots, such as homeless camps in the woods. Data collected on the Veterans is used by the HSN, the VA and partners to get Veterans into the system and off the streets. The registry of veteran names allows the VA to verify eligibility, match the Veterans to national VA programs, depending on individual needs, and then follow up when housing becomes available.

Across Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, 418 homeless Veterans were located by volunteers who collectively dedicated more than 2,000 hours to the outreach. The Surge was the first step of the “Heroes Come Home” initiative, which includes locating, housing and assisting homeless Veterans. The 418 men and women are now registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which will streamline the process for providing them with the homes and aid necessary for their stability.

Helping homeless families and children is even more complex than helping the chronically homeless. From the lack of affordable housing and transportation to bad credit and eviction history — many times through no fault of their own — the barriers to ending family homelessness are staggering.

Through the CFCH, Mayor Jacobs established the Family Homelessness Committee in late 2014 to study affordable housing, homeless prevention and programs related to family homelessness, and asked community leader and child advocate Dick Batchelor to serve as chair. The committee heard testimony throughout 2015 from national experts and local leaders from a wide range of disciplines, including the faith community and nonprofit organizations. The testimony helped to identify the face of family homelessness in the schools, on the streets, in domestic abuse shelters, and in hotels and motels. To partner with that effort, Rulon Munns agreed to lead the Orange County Committee of the CFCH, which looks at Orange County’s overall safety net of programs.

In May of 2015, Mayor Jacobs announced a new partnership between the faith community and Orange County to suppport families impacted by homelessness and poverty. In partnership with the County’s Health Services Department team and about 80 members of Central Florida’s faith community, the launch of Open Table helped to expand this national program. Through Open Table, congregation members are educated and trained to help transform the lives of the homeless and families in poverty. A group of church volunteers compose a “table” and use their “intellectual and social capital” to create the transformation. They commit an hour a week for a year to help the youth, individual or family to meet goals established in a document called a Life Plan.

In July, Orange County and the CFHC hosted the first-ever Central Florida Landlord Summit with other community partners to address homelessness and help individuals, families and children find safe, stable and affordable housing in the region. The event was attended by landlords and community leaders from Osceola, Orange and Seminole counties.

In September, Mayor Jacobs joined former U.S. Senator, HUD secretary and Orange County Mayor Mel Martinez and community leaders to unveil a newly completed CFCH report, titled The Path Forward: Rethinking Solutions for Homelessness in Florida that explores the causes of homelessness and calls for a response by communities across the state to prioritize permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing and affordable housing to better serve our homeless populations.

The report, with funding support by JPMorgan Chase, was developed by Barbara Poppe, a nationally recognized leader on community homelessness issues and the former executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, and provides comprehensive strategies for creating policies and programs aimed at making homelessness rare, brief and one-time event, especially among youth and Veterans — the groups most impacted in the state. Additionally, new permanent supportive affordable-housing units will be developed through a generous $600,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase to Ability Housing of Northeast Florida, an organization that has successfully been addressing the shortage of permanent supportive-housing options for chronically homeless individuals, Veterans and families in Jacksonville. The Orlando region will receive $500,000, and $100,000 will benefit their Jacksonville location.

After the release of the two reports, Mayor Jacobs led a delegation of more than 70 key regional leaders on a fact-finding mission to Salt Lake City, Utah, in October to see first-hand how leaders in Salt Lake City are working to find solutions to family homelessness and how their approaches may apply to the Central Florida community.

In October, the CFCH Family Homelessness Committee and Mayor Jacobs announced the release of a report commissioned by Orange County titled, The Current State of Family Homelessness in Central Florida. The report provides new details and statistics that document the challenges that children and families in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties face in terms of stable housing, and provides six key recommendations that will be reviewed by the CFCH Family Homelessness Committee. Poppe led the research team to author the nearly 70-page report. The report offers new information, detailed data and potential systemic solutions that, when combined, will have the potential to make a lasting positive impact.

Poppe’s research found that one in 17 children in Central Florida will experience some episode of homelessness this year and that too many families are only one major life event or crisis away from homelessness. After reviewing the report’s recommendations, the Committee will offer implementation strategies to the CFCH for approval.

In November, Mayor Jacobs announced an allocation of $1.5 million dollars from the County, to be used for rapid re-housing, through a contract with the HSN. These new dollars will allow the HSN to serve 150 families with help on housing searches, rent assistance and case management. Rapid Re-housing (RRH) is an intervention designed to help households quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing. In RRH, traditional barriers that might have prevented an individual from securing housing are reduced or eliminated. Resources and services are typically tailored to the needs of the household served. Services are not time-limited, but generally average about six months.


Mayor Jacobs and members of Orange County's Domestic Violence Commission (DVC) presented key findings in April on the region's state of child abuse during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Out of 67 Florida counties, Orange County recorded the second highest number of abuse reports, with 13,855 cases. Tragically, within the first three months of the calendar year, eight children lost their lives in Orange County due to allegations of abuse and possible neglect.

As part of the region's advocacy efforts and the close connection between domestic violence and child abuse, Mayor Jacobs called for the expansion of the Orange County Domestic Violence Commission to form the Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Commission, with membership to include community leaders with expertise in the field of child abuse prevention. The alignment was a natural partnership as eighty percent of battered women also have children who are abused.

Members of the Orange County Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Commission will continue the vital work of the DVC, while also working to protect the County's most vulnerable — our children.

In early 2015, the Commission helped spearhead new, critical domestic violence legislation to help save lives. One bill that was passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in May ensures that an order of “no contact” will be effective immediately, to include when the perpetrator is in jail, and remain in effect until modified by the court.


In March, Mayor Jacobs joined the Central Florida community in grieving the loss of an American war hero and community leader, retired Army Lt. Col. Earle Denton.

A Purple Heart recipient, Denton dedicated more than 25 years of his life to military service. He was a committed advocate for the new Orlando VA Medical Center and a dedicated champion of the region's modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) sector. He also served on several Orange County Advisory Boards including the Veterans Advisory Council, Planning and Zoning, and Charter Review.

Mayor Jacobs participated in a special ceremony inducting Denton into the National Center for Simulation (NCS) Hall of Fame in February before his death. Mayor Jacobs spoke in May at the NCS Class of 2015 Hall of Fame induction ceremony where Denton’s plaque was officially unveiled for placement on the Wall of Honor along with three other inductees, Asmund S. Laerdal, Henry C. “Hank” Okraski and retired Army Col. James Shiflett. The NCS Hall of Fame is located at the Orange County Convention Center and showcases Central Florida’s flourishing MS&T sector to the 1.3 million guests who visit there annually.


The Orange County Board of County Commissioners unveiled roadway sign tributes to two fallen hometown heroes, Orange County Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Scott Pine and Windermere Police Officer Robert German. In 2014, both beloved officers tragically lost their lives to senseless acts of violence while in the line of duty.

Family members, friends, colleagues and community leaders gathered at two ceremonies in West Orange County where the new signs are located. The Deputy Scott Pine Memorial Roadway is located on S. Apopka Vineland Road and the Officer Robert German Memorial Roadway is located south of Conroy-Windermere Road. Their names are also engraved on the Law Enforcement Memorial Monument in the courtyard of the Orange County Courthouse and on Tallahassee’s Law Enforcement Memorial. Additionally, their names will soon be added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington.

The signs also serve as symbols of gratitude to local law enforcement officers and will help the community recognize the selfless sacrifices officers make on a daily basis to ensure the safety of citizens.


History was made when Central Florida successfully met the challenge to “Fill the Bowl,” and more than 62,500 soccer fans came to the Orlando Citrus Bowl in March. Thousands of fans turned out for the inaugural game of the area’s newest professional sports team, Major League Soccer’s Orlando City Lions. The Lions played the sold-out game to a 1-1 draw against the New York City Football Club, with Orlando superstar Ricardo Kaká scoring the lone goal for the Lions. Mayor Jacobs was on the field for the official opening ceremonies prior to the 5 p.m. game, which was televised in more than 100 countries and on ESPN2.


In October, Mayor Jacobs proudly stood with partner community leaders as Harbor House of Central Florida officially broke ground on the new emergency housing facility set to open in the fall of 2016. The event drew community leaders and advocates, law enforcement officers and social service representatives from across Central Florida in support of the new 119-bed facility dedicated as the Morgan and Morgan Home — A Safe Haven for Families.

According to Harbor House, the new facility was designed to balance two distinct needs: the survivors’ psychological needs for a warm, healing, home-like environment; and a cost-effective facility that could be maintained efficiently without feeling cold or institutional. The new emergency home, sponsored by and named after supporters John and Ultima Morgan, is an impressive 27,500 square feet and includes 20 bedrooms that will house up to 136 parents and children. It’s a critical resource to the community that will help ensure fleeing families can stay together during such difficult and often uncertain times.


Mayor Jacobs spoke in January to citizens who gathered for the 7th Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day at Lake Eola. The event focused on increasing public awareness and support to those dedicated to protecting human rights and individual freedom. The Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force holds the event in partnership with governmental and non-governmental organizations, businesses, advocates and community leaders to help eliminate forced labor and human trafficking. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are nearly 21 million victims of human trafficking globally, including 5.5 million children.

In coordination with District 3 Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke’s Office, Mayor Jacobs and the BCC passed the first countywide human trafficking sign ordinance on December 1, 2015. The ordinance requires the posting of human trafficking awareness signs at specific locations and entertainment businesses or establishments that offer massage or bodywork services for compensation that is not owned by a healthcare organization. The sign will provide information on how to recognize possible situations relating to human trafficking and list the phone number and text information for the National Human Trafficking Resource Call Center to assist victims. The public awareness sign will be printed in English, Spanish and Creole, and noncriminal violations can be enforced under the ordinance.

The purpose of the ordinance is to increase awareness of assistance available to victims of human trafficking and to increase public awareness of human trafficking in the community. In 2014, Florida ranked third in the nation for reported human trafficking cases. The ordinance was passed unanimously and became effective February 1, 2016.


As our nation addresses the skyrocketing use of heroin, Florida has also seen an alarming increase in the number of heroin-related deaths. Orange County local law enforcement reported an increase in heroin on our streets, and our treatment providers are seeing an increase in those seeking treatment for heroin. In 2014, the Orange County Medical Examiner’s report indicated 90 heroin-related deaths, which is an 84 percent increase from 2013 — a shocking and tragic jump in occurrence.

To tackle this problem locally, Mayor Jacobs convened the first Heroin Task Force work session in August. The task force is comprised of 22 key community leaders, including Sheriff Jerry L. Demings, who agreed to co-chair the task force with Mayor Jacobs, Deputy County Administrator of Public Safety and Health Services George Ralls, M.D., Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Honorable Fred Lauten, Department of Children & Families, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Regional Director Phil Scarpelli, and numerous state and local law enforcement partners, medical, treatment and educational institution experts to address the extraordinary spike in local heroin use and overdose deaths.

The Orange County Heroin Task Force formed four subcommittees in the area of law enforcement, education and prevention, healthcare and public policy, and treatment. The subcommittees meet on a monthly basis gathering and analyzing information through local, state and national resources, reviewing best practices and model programs.

It is anticipated that the task force will meet for six months to complete its analysis, recommendations, and develop an action plan that addresses this critical issue. For more information, go to:


Mayor Jacobs launched a Neighborhood Challenge in February as a fun, free program to help residents and neighborhood groups join in friendly competition to improve their quality of life. The idea was to drive the community toward a greener, healthier and more involved future. Groups competed by completing projects under three themes: community involvement, green practices and healthy neighborhoods. The challenge ran through June and the winners were announced at the 2015 Community Conference in July. The 2015 Mayor’s Neighborhood Challenge winners include: Community Involvement, Hidden Valley Homeowners Association in District 1; the Green Practices, Avalon Park Property Owners Association in District 4; and the Healthy Neighborhoods, Woodside Village Homeowners Association in District 5. Each winner received a block party to celebrate their win from the Neighborhood Preservation & Revitalization Division.


A beautiful new community center for Holden Heights opened in June. In addition to being a gathering place for Holden Heights residents and the surrounding communities, the center will provide programs to assist and educate low-income individuals and support families on their journey to self-sufficiency. Mayor Jacobs and more than 300 community partners and guests attended the grand opening event.

The Community Action Division currently provides job training, social service programs, vocational training and youth and senior programs at the center. Several on-site partners also will assist with the division’s holistic approach to self-sufficiency, through referrals on issues such as child care, housing and crisis assistance.

The new 10,500-square-foot facility includes education rooms, outdoor lakeside areas, offices, a computer lab, small breakout rooms, and a large multipurpose space that can accommodate large events for special occasions. The center replaces a smaller, 30-year-old neighborhood facility that will be demolished with the eventual expansion of the I-4 Ultimate project.

The $4.2 million center located at 1201 20th Street took a year to construct and was financed with County capital funding and federal grant money. The $900,000 the state paid to buy the former building for I-4 expansion was applied to the project.


Mayor Jacobs joined federal, state and local officials at the Orlando Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center Dedication Ceremony in Lake Nona in May and marked the milestone achievement with a celebratory ribbon cutting.

The VA Medical Center includes a 134-bed inpatient diagnostic and treatment hospital, a 120-bed nursing home, a 60-bed domiciliary and an outpatient clinic. The $616-million facility will provide access to state-of-the art health care and medical services to approximately 400,000 Veterans in Central Florida. At the ceremony, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald recognized the steadfast efforts of the Central Florida community, whose dedication contributed to the opening of the nation’s newest VA Medical Center.

Located in Lake Nona’s Medical City, a 650-acre health and life-science park in east Orange County, the center also will house the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Simulation Learning, Education and Research Network (SimLEARN) National Simulation Center. The 52,000-square-foot center will serve as a high-tech advanced training facility for VA medical centers across the nation.

Medical City is home to some of the nation’s top hospitals, universities, research institutions, and health and life-science companies, including the University of Central Florida Health Sciences Campus, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Nemours Children's Hospital and the University of Florida Academic & Research Center.


With numerous community leaders and the law enforcement community on hand, Orange County’s Parks and Recreation Division broke ground on the Deputy Brandon Coates Community Park in June.

The park was officially dedicated to the memory of Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy First Class Brandon Lee Coates, who was killed in the line of duty in December 2010. Deputy Coates’ widow, Virginia Coates Ricks, mother, Debbie Griffin, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and many deputies who worked with Coates attended the ceremony. Coates also served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps prior to joining the Sheriff’s Department.

The 27-acre, mile-wide property is situated in Orange County District 1, along the border of District 4, south of the Deerfield community. The County budgeted $3.2 million for the project and expects completion in 2016. Amenities include two multi-sports fields, a playground, walking path, exercise course, concrete skate spot, picnic pavilions, restrooms and paved parking.


Orlando hosted an entertaining international-friendly soccer match between CONCACAF rivals Mexico and Costa Rica in June. More than 53,600 soccer fans packed the Orlando Citrus bowl to watch the match, which resulted in a 2-2 draw. The renovated Citrus Bowl is home this year to the Orlando City Soccer Club and is drawing record crowds for Lions’ matches.


Mayor Jacobs joined community leaders to announce the highly anticipated U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) Victory tour match against Brazil. The historic soccer rivals faced off at the Orlando Citrus Bowl in October. The USWNT returned to the Orlando Citrus Bowl for the first time since the United States defeated Brazil in November 2013 when more than 20,000 fans attended. The match was the highest-attended match for the USWNT that year. Orange County has witnessed a tremendous amount of support for soccer, especially since the Orlando City Soccer Club made their Major League Soccer debut in March.


Soccer enthusiasts gathered at Lake Eola in October for a special announcement from Orlando City Soccer Club (OCSC) of a new National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) franchise, which is set to launch in 2016. Named Orlando Pride, the launch of the women’s team comes on the heels of the overwhelming success of Orlando City Soccer Club’s opening season.

The Orlando Pride is the 10th franchise to join the NWSL, which features national team players from Canada, Mexico and the United States, and will enter its fourth season in 2016. OCSC Founder and President Phil Rawlins had been in talks about a women’s professional soccer team in Orlando for more than a year and was thrilled to officially announce the team’s arrival.