RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Hollywood, Fla. has come up with a new way to reduce its homeless population. The city is buying-out a shelter and sending the homeless people away. City officials reached a deal with a controversial homeless advocate who's run a shelter in the South Florida beach community for years. They're paying him nearly $5 million for his properties and his promise to move some 200 homeless people out of an area targeted for redevelopment. NPR's Greg Allen visited Hollywood, Fla. and has this report.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been a week of goodbyes at the Homeless Voice shelter in Hollywood.
CHRISTINE JORDAN: Everything's gone, TVs...
ALLEN: Yeah, it's kind of sad, I guess?
JORDAN: Yeah. I've been working here 14 years. I can't cry anymore.
ALLEN: Christine Jordan was the hotel manager here. For nearly 13 years, this rundown hotel operated as a homeless shelter. Some people stayed free, others paid on a sliding scale. Just 22 rooms. But most nights, Jordan says, more than 200 stayed here, many sleeping on mats in the cafeteria.
JORDAN: We'd put about 35 or 40 mats. We called this the emergency level. Head-to-toe, head-to-toe, almost 40 people in here every night.
ALLEN: It all came to an end this week when the city of Hollywood closed a deal with the shelter's owner, Sean Cononie. Hollywood bought Cononie's hotel and several other properties for $4.8 million. Last week, more than a hundred shelter residents boarded buses and headed out of town to new quarters more than 200 miles away in Central Florida. For the city, it ends a long, unhappy relationship with Cononie. A decade ago, Hollywood tried unsuccessfully to shut down his shelter. Now with a building boom underway and developers setting their sights on the aging neighborhood, Cononie decided to cash-in and move his shelter and tenants out of the city. But, he's not happy.
SEAN CONONIE: This has been my home. You know, most people know that I sleep at the shelter. So it's been traumatic selling-out. I sold the homeless out. I had no choice in the matter. They wouldn't let us expand here. We weren't getting the services we needed from the city.
ALLEN: Cononie is a homeless advocate and an entrepreneur. His shelter is self-supporting. His homeless clients pay rent by selling the Homeless Voice newspaper or by drawing on disability or other government benefits. Cononie says the deal he made with the city allows him to continue working with the homeless anywhere but in Hollywood. That's because of an unusual provision, one that bans him from living in the city for the next 30 years.
CONONIE: They were afraid if I owned a house that I would let a homeless person spend the night, and it would be a slippery slope for me to get away with opening up another shelter.
ALLEN: Hollywood is in Broward County, which has had a contentious relationship with its large homeless population and the people who serve them. Neighboring Ft. Lauderdale has long tried to tried restrict homeless feeding programs. Here's Raelin Storey, a spokesperson for Hollywood.
RAELIN STOREY: This is not about the city of Hollywood not being open to providing assistance for individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
ALLEN: Storey notes that Hollywood is home to a 125-bed homeless shelter run by the county. But like much of South Florida, the city is seeing a building boom. More than a billion dollars of development is in the works. Storey says on one of the city's main commercial corridors, Cononie's homeless shelter was an obstacle.
STOREY: The concentration along this particular corridor was creating a scenario where the city couldn't see the redevelopment potential.
ALLEN: It's a similar story in other coastal cities. Lorraine Wilby, with the Task Force for Ending Homelessness in Ft. Lauderdale, says after building out the beachfront, developers are moving inland.
LORRAINE WILBY: And where the development is happening is some rundown old single-occupancy rooms and boarding houses and all those affordable or attainable places to live for people.
ALLEN: In recent years, Wilby says, her group has seen a marked increase of homelessness among the working poor - people with full-time jobs who can't afford first and last months' rent plus a security deposit. As old neighborhoods give way to new development, she says a lack of affordable housing means Hollywood's homeless problem is likely to persist long after Cononie and his shelter have moved on. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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