By Karli Barnett

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As so many were hit hard during this past year and a half, there was an unexpected bright spot.

According to Miami-Dade County’s most recent Homeless Census, it shows the lowest homeless population in 25 years, which includes both sheltered and unsheltered individuals.

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Ron Book, Chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, says the COVID pandemic actually contributed to that.

“We don’t put people in shelters these days. We put them in our quarantine program, which is a hotel program,” he explained. “While at the height of COVID, we had five or six hotels, that we were putting folks in, we are still putting them in three places.”

(Source: Miami-Dade Homeless Trust)

More than 6,100 people were served in those locations since they were set up in March of 2020. Many have used the opportunity to get back on track.

“We have rules when you come into a hotel program,” Book said. “They follow the rules. They listen. We made services available day in and day out.”

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“You’re giving people their prescription medicines,” he continued. “When they are given on time and regularly, and they stay lucid and they stay stable, they are more apt to take us up on those programs and services that we offer. And here’s what we are sure of, it’s worked.”

To date, the county’s total homeless population is the lowest it’s ever been.

In 1996, it was as high as 8,000 people. August 2019, showed 3,698 total homeless people. Now, it is down to 3,355. That’s a drop of 9%.

The census was not done in August of 2020 due to the pandemic.

“Our goal all along during COVID is once you brought them in off the streets, keep them off the streets,” Book said. “Those that we brought in continue with our outreach teams and our caseworkers to get them to access our services so that they would take us up on permanent housing.”

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The quarantine program will last, at least, through the end of the year. The Homeless Trust is working on raising money for more housing, especially with concerns about the eviction moratorium. Book said they are about one-third of the way to their $15 million goal.

Karli Barnett