By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
MIAMI, USA — Homelessness has reached a staggering and alarming level in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, according to local community activist, Gloria Lewis, a Barbadian living in the area who has been taking care of people in desperate need and down on their luck.
Gloria, a Barbadian national working as a waitress in Fort Lauderdale, along with her husband, Anthony Vargas, founded and operates Care in Action USA, a non-profit organisation that has been delivering hundreds of hot meals every weekend in the South Florida area for over the past several years.
Gloria said that her direct connection to people on the ground in South Florida has given her insight into the homelessness dilemma. She continually worries that the homelessness epidemic in South Florida is reaching epic proportions and no one is addressing it adequately or satisfactorily.
Gloria, a devout Christian, claims that over the past four to five years the homeless situation in South Florida has skyrocketed. In her estimation from her observations on the ground, the perpetual homelessness, added to the existing rise in homelessness after the 2008 economic crash brought on by the housing crisis, has never been as bad as she is experiencing.
Gloria’s recent fight however has been on behalf of the McCray family, a seven member clan of African-American and Filipino descent that has fallen on trying and desperate times in Fort Lauderdale.
The family’s matriarch, Rosalina McCray (nee Rapsing), a 69-year-old grandmother of Filipino descent who worked for Wal-Mart for over 22-plus years and retired from the company, can no longer handle the burden of providing for her family after her husband passed away in 2014 and the benefits accrued to him had ran out, in addition to his $25,000 life insurance, of which nearly half went to his funeral costs.
Rosalina and her daughter, Michelle McCray, who is now 30 years old and came to America when she was just six months, are with Michelle’s five young children with ages ranging from 11 to four months.
Michelle said that her family has been living between strangers, the streets and unsecured hotels over the past two weeks with little or no hope for them when the kindness and generosity of strangers runs out.
Gloria has been paying out of her own pocket to make sure the family has a roof over their heads, while she frantically tries to governmental support all the way up to Fort Lauderdale mayor, Dean Trantalis’s office for them to intervene.
Speaking to Gloria, she said that she took the family into her own care and put them in a hotel until the day after Christmas. Gloria also has been feeding them and bought foodstuff for the entire family for at least one week until things can improve.
Gloria also said that the day after Christmas she took the family to Trantalis’s offices and spoke to a representative named Debra Johnson and explained the desperate plight of this at-risk family.
Gloria said that, after a short while, Johnson came back and said that the non-profit, United Way of America, would pay for a two-day stay at a local hotel, after which the family was on its own.
There is an extremely long waiting list for persons looking for government sponsored housing and additional support, and it can be up to a year before applicants receive word on whether or not they have been approved.
Since the time at the hotel paid for by United Way ran out, Gloria started spending money out of her own pocket to ensure that the family is not put out in the streets or facing any risk due to the elements and human interference.
Gloria claims it is too much, and even with her Christian upbringing, doing this is too much of a burden but she claims she cannot let the family and the children suffer as a result of natural elements or human predators.
In this case, a rental-shark attempted to gouge the McCray family, as a case worker working with a property manager stated that they needed more money for the down payment for accommodation, a jump from $190 dollars as a start of negotiation between all parties to now wanting $1,000 with no warning or other explanation as to why the original arrangement fell through.
Since Christmas, Gloria has been back and forth to Trantalis’s offices and the offices of the vice mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Ben Sorensen, in hopes of finding a kinder heart with the courage to get things done for people that need it the most. Thus far she claims these efforts over the holiday seasons have been unsuccessful and has left her tired and hurt and bitter over the process and the seemingly vast resources but no mechanisms to make the impact needed.
Gloria, while she claims she will take any help she can get for the McCray clan, is no fan of government sponsored hand-outs either and wants more to be done to stem this growing problem of homelessness in South Florida.
More needs to be done she says, and not in terms of hand-outs, but putting people in a position, if the government must intervene, not to make them more dependent on the system that she is aware can only do so much.
It is not always about the money or a home Gloria said, or even providing food or clothes, but it is about putting people who are at-risk out of harm’s way by any means possible and also by putting them on a path to self-sufficiency that will ensure that when and if the government must step in to help in a desperate situation like the McCray’s have found themselves in, the dependency period is short and unneeded in the long term.
Issues like affordable housing, better jobs and higher wages are a start she claims. But an overall community level organisation is what is needed.
Gloria, who is spending upwards of $1,000 a week on taking care of the family until a permanent solution is found, said that something must be done.
Out of the $5 million the mayor’s office claims they got to fight homelessness in Fort Lauderdale, something must be done to impact the lives of the people who need that help.
While the Broward County/Fort Lauderdale area, by virtue of data collected every January by the Homeless Initiative Partnership, indicates that the homelessness rate from 2017 to 2018 decreased by five percent, in Central Florida, including Orlando, reports estimate that there was a 30-plus percent increase in the homeless rate.
In addition, homelessness in the Miami-Dade County area, just south of Broward County, the numbers are just as staggering. For the month of July, 2018 some 4,054 people were calculated by the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust of persons to be at an immediate risk of being homeless; this was a stark rise in over 2,839 people recorded in June and over 2,722 recorded in the month of May.
The disparities of data and statistics on homelessness in the South and Central Florida areas do not take into account for human/in-state migration and in between the borders of what constitutes Central and South Florida and additionally on what constitutes Miami-Dade County and Broward County on any given accounting period, which may skew the data on the period and time the data was compiled.