Gov. Rick Scott To End Cost-Free Homelessness Awareness Day

February 22, 2011 11:42 am ET — Kate Conway

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott's (R-FL) proposed budget makes his priorities pretty clear: under the guise of building a "business-friendly" state, Scott wants to slash corporate and property taxes while making cuts to education, Medicaid, and services for children and the disabled.

So it's really not surprising to learn that Scott's budget would also cut millions from programs used to help Florida's homeless population, including the elimination of the state's Office of Homelessness. But Scott adds insult to injury, doubling down on the message that the homeless either don't need or don't deserve help by calling for the elimination of a homeless memorial day that doesn't cost the state any money.

For example, Scott would wipe out the $7 million that funded the Office of the Homeless, which works with local homeless coalitions to try to create programs and shelters for the state's estimated 58,000 homeless. He also would end Homelessness Memorial Day, established in 1990 by three national organizations, including the National Coalition of the Homeless, on Dec. 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. It was written into state statutes in 2001 "to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness."

"What we're hearing in the field from Tallahassee is: 'You guys are not a priority.' That message has been sent loud and clear," said Laura Hansen, chief executive officer of the Coalition to End Homelessness, in Broward County.

Ending Homelessness Memorial Day, she said, "strikes me as particularly absurd," adding that no state costs were tied to the date.

Following a national movement encouraging local and statewide organizations to hold events to "bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness and to remember our homeless friends who have paid the ultimate price for our nation's failure to end homelessness," the Florida legislature officially recognized December 21 as Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. Although the law encourages local groups to sponsor memorials and awareness events, the legislation carries no financial obligation for the state or local governments.