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Issues and Voices that Matter April 14, 2011

Homelessness: A Community Conversation

Homelessness: A Community ConversationFeature Length 27:14

To more effectively address the issue of homelessness in Seminole County Florida, the community services department of county government convened the second in a series of meetings of providers of services to the homeless community. CMF public media sat in to record the conversations that took place.

Produced, reported and edited by Stephen McKenney Steck

Michelle Saunders is the director of the department responsible for the event. She calls these gatherings “community conversations,” with her definition of “community” being those who provide services to the homeless in Seminole County.

The conversation was recorded on Friday, March 4, 2011 in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Principal voices we hear are Michelle Saunders, director of the county’s department of community services and Dr. Thomas Bryer, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida who co-facilitated the event.

This gathering helps Saunders’ achieve her goal of developing a broad and inclusive strategy by which county government and her department may better measure, manage and financially support the needs of the non-profit service providers in their quest to reduce the homeless population in the county. It’s a goal many sources tell CMF that has not been comprehensively or collectively attempted in recent years.

Knowledgeable homeless service providers state that in 2010 between 700 and 900 chronically homeless people are on the streets in Seminole County. That number does not include the near homeless, the recovering homeless or public school students of homeless parents.

In the Orlando metro area – largely defined as the counties of Seminole, Orange and Osceola, Seminole represents approximately 20 percent of the overall homeless population, yet only 4 percent of the beds accommodating and sheltering such homeless people are located in Seminole County.

With 45 participants present in a large conference room on the morning of Friday, March 4, 2011, the discussion is led by Michelle Saunders who sets the stage for a half day “conversation” featuring group dialog and discovery. She reviews the results of the first such gathering in November 2010 and she establishes the goals for this forum.

To facilitate the day’s pending dialog between service providers, Saunders calls on the help of Dr. Thomas Bryer, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida. Bryer’s credentials and experience in teaching and research focuses on public participation with government agencies, citizen engagement and cross-sector collaboration.

Bryer instructs the providers regarding the small group dialog which will occupy most of the day. It will form the basis of identifying what he calls the “paths” homeless clients take on entering the care of providers. Identifying and understanding these paths, or lack of ones, will become one of the key elements of Seminole County Government’s long term strategy for management and financial support for the homeless population in the county

In this feature, CMF condenses more than an hour and half of provider discussions in a brief aural montage related to 5-previously identified groups within the homeless population as they enter and are or are not processed through a path or a continuum of care. The population groups are defined as 1) a family or couple with kids, 2) single females, 3) single females with children, 4) single males, and 5) military veterans.

Dr. Thomas Bryer who facilitated this discussion and path-describing exercise is also involved on a non-paid basis to assist Seminole County’s Michelle Saunders and others in designing, implementing, interpreting and reporting the results of the survey. When available, those results and the development of strategy recommendations will be the source for another CMF feature on the homeless issue.

With a nod toward the inevitable fact of limited funding coupled with a compelling need for a shared vision and strategy, Seminole County Government’s director of community services, Michelle Saunders closes this second community conversation.


Michelle Saunders
Director, Community Services, Seminole County Government

bio | website

Thomas A. Bryer, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Central Florida



Click on the picture(s) to enlarge.
Co-facilitator: Thomas A. Bryer, Ph.D, assistant professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Central Florida (photo - CMF Public Media)

Links to other podcasts produced by CMF Public Media featuring issues related to homelessness

One Response to “Homelessness: A Community Conversation”

  1. [...] most recent “community conversation,” held in March in Altamonte Springs, visit window.fbAsyncInit = function() { FB.init({ status: true, cookie: true, xfbml: true }); }; [...]

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