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Homeless Guru Speaks in Pensacola

Robert Marbut, who has spent three decades working on homeless issues, visited Pensacola Wednesday and conducted a Community Forum on Homelessness sponsored by the City.

Speaking in the City Council Chambers, Marbut outlined his work with dozens of cities, and his involvement in establishing Haven for Hope in his hometown of San Antonio -- where homelessness has dropped by around 85 percent.

Marbut told the handful of attendees that he looks at four matrix: the homeless population; how many graduate out of the system, the number in jail, and those who visit hospital emergency rooms. But does an area ever get to zero homeless?

“No,” said Marbut. “We’re in Florida. And it’s the same in southern California and the same in south Texas.  The beach areas of Texas, the beach areas of San Diego, L.A., the beach areas of Florida are always going to have a homeless number that’s high, because you will always have inbound homeless from the north.”

After conducting a nationwide “best practices” study of homeless services, Marbut and his consulting firm developed the Seven Guiding Principles of Homeless Transformation, which are now being followed by about a dozen communities. Principle number one is having a transformative environment, rather than a warehousing one.

Number two is integrating as many services as possible through development of a coherent system. The third principle is case management – either an integrated or virtual approach.

Numbers four and five are interconnected, with consequences and rewards for behavior. Sixth, is adjusting external activities that keep the homeless from improving their current situation. That means offering more than just free food.

The seventh and final principle is putting a stop to panhandling. Not necessarily through ordinances, says Marbut, but changing the culture by leading them not into temptation.

“If you give a dollar out the door to the average male in the United States, 93% goes to drugs, alcohol or prostitution,” Marbut said. “If you’re giving a dollar a day to homeless people, cut a check for $250 – that’s 250 business days. And cut it to a group like Loaves and Fishes or to Waterfront (Rescue Mission).”

The bottom line, says Robert Marbut, is that Pensacola and other cities actually stand at a crossroads when it comes to addressing their homeless issues. The choices, he says, are clear.

“If you like what is going on now, just keep doing the same thing. I guarantee you’ll have a 20% increase (in homeless) in the next 24 months if you make no changes.”