Broward News

Fort Lauderdale Will Return Grant Money Originally Intended for Homeless

Fort Lauderdale is going to return over $40,000 in grant money that was supposed to be used to house the homeless.

As New Times previously reported, the Office of the Inspector General found that $78,231 in grant funds intended to help the homeless in Fort Lauderdale was “inappropriately spent.” The city overbilled the county for the cost of providing apartments to the chronically homeless, charging between $988 and $1,187 a month when the reasonable rent for those same apartments was between $450 and $700. Meanwhile, residents were complaining that their neighborhoods were unsafe and that they’d been burglarized.

Advocates for the homeless in Fort Lauderdale argue that this amounts to inexcusable negligence on the city’s part. “What it translates to is that chronically homeless people were not taken off the street, and very possibly died because of this commission’s negligence,” Jeff Weinberger, an activist with the October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness, said at last night’s City Commission meeting.

Fort Lauderdale has already returned $61,836 in grant money to the Broward County Continuum of Care program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Last night, the commission voted to return the remaining $42,669.

That money was supposed to be used to support a “housing first” model — the idea being that providing safe, secure housing to the homeless is ultimately a lot cheaper to taxpayers than the costs of repeated emergency room and jail visits. It’s been incredibly successful elsewhere — like in Utah, which reduced chronic homelessness by 91 percent.

Weinberger argues that the city has now failed twice — first by wasting money that could have been spent on housing more homeless people, and secondly by failing to provide a stable environment for the people who did get apartments through the program. “You’d think the last place you’d put people is a place where there is a ton of drama and crime going on right outside their door, but that’s exactly what Fort Lauderdale did,” he told New Times. “It’s almost like they wanted the program to fail.”

Chaz Adams, Fort Lauderdale's public affairs manager, said the people who were responsible for overseeing the program back when the issues noted in the inspector general's report occurred are no longer working for the city. Meanwhile, City Manager Lee Feldman said that despite the setbacks, he considers the program to be a success.

“I think the most important aspect is to recognize that there were 22 individuals and families that were taken off the streets,” he said. 
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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.