Central Florida will become a testing ground for a new federal effort to help chronically homeless individuals get — and stay — stably housed. In March 2019, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services authorized Florida’s  Agency for Health Care Administration to implement a pilot program providing additional behavioral health services and supportive housing assistance to chronically homeless adults. Typically, those are people who have a mental or physical disability and are living in an emergency shelter, their car or a tent, often for longer than a year. The pilot program covers Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Brevard counties.

“This pilot has the potential to save nearly $750,000 in jurisdictional resources while improving health and housing outcomes for our most vulnerable homeless neighbors,” said Shelley Lauten, CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.

The effort to bring the pilot to Central Florida began nearly three years earlier when then-Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner championed the idea among his fellow lawmakers. The waiver request sat dormant until the summer of 2018, when the homeless commission made the initiative one of its policy priorities.

“While it’s been a long time in coming, I celebrate this opportunity to provide additional funding for the services and housing needed to support our most vulnerable neighbors”, said Gardiner, now senior vice-president of external affairs and community relations for Orlando Health and a Central Florida Commission on Homelessness board member.

“When we learned about this opportunity to expand the resources for supportive services for our chronically homeless population, we knew this needed to become a priority,” Lauten said. “We wouldn’t have been able to reignite this effort without the support of board members like Sen. Gardiner or our partners at the Orlando Economic Partnership.”

The Partnership’s Advocacy and Public Policy Council agreed to push for the Medicaid waiver needed to launch the program as part of its priorities during a February trip to Washington, D.C. This allowed the homeless commission to gain support from Central Florida’s federal delegation, helping to expedite the approval. A special thanks to Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Rep. Stephanie Murphy for working on Central Florida’s behalf.

AHCA will finalize the mechanics of the program, and enrollment is expected to begin in late summer. The commission will continue to work with agency officials to monitor implementation.