DeSantis’ office temporarily saves motel voucher program for homeless in Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A last-minute phone call from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office prevented about 60 people from being thrown back to the streets of Broward County on Monday, but it’s only a temporary solution.

The coronavirus pandemic forced Fort Lauderdale officials to implement an emergency policy to keep people who are experiencing homelessness away from the streets. The ambitious program has been lacking funding.

Bertisha Combs was outside of the Rodeway Inn & Suites Fort Lauderdale Airport & Port Everglades Cruise Port Hotel at 2440 W State Rd. 84. She was acting as a spokesperson for the 60 guests who received an order to leave by 11 a.m.

“On Friday, they told people that they would be getting case management to know that where they were going to be placed in long-term housing on Monday,” said Combs, a former real estate agent who is working as a community organizer for an organization focused on political engagement.

Instead of getting hopeful details about their dream of securing long-term housing on Monday, Combs said they received the letter asking them to leave the temporary housing. Officials were able to prevent that from happening.

During the public health crisis, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and City Manager Chris Lagerbloom have been looking for local, state, and federal funding to contribute to the motel voucher program for temporary housing. They are also aiming for rehabilitation.

“All of the participants in the program are working with case managers who are coordinating referrals for them from mental health, medical, social service and other providers, while also working to secure permanent housing,” a city’s spokesperson wrote.

The group only represents a small fraction of the homeless population in the area. The U.S. Department of Housing And Urban Development’s Annual Homelessness Assessment reported in January that about 2,340 people were homeless in the Fort Lauderdale/Broward area.

There was still fear at the Rodeway Inn & Suites on Monday afternoon.

Nicole Bankley, the motel’s director of sales and marketing, said the 60 guests have been cooperative despite the challenges they have faced. She also said the motel is willing to continue to participate in the voucher program until September.

“We have not been given a definitive date as to what the funding is or how long the funding is for,” Bankley said.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.