Letter from Ronald L. Book, Chairman, to Senator Bill Nelson
And federal correspondence from Senator Bill Nelson
October 26, 2015
Senator Bill Nelson
United States Senate
2555 Ponce De Leon Boulevard
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Dear Senator Nelson:
As you know, Florida is experiencing a tremendous spike in refugee arrivals, with approximately 35,500 arrivals as of July 2015, more than all of last year combined. Approximately 71-percent of those arrivals were in Miami-Dade County, with Cubans making up the largest group.
Through the Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP) and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) Program, these refugees are eligible for services, but funding and resources are not keeping pace with the increasing demand. As a result, Cuban refugees arriving in Miami-Dade County who may be eligible for CHEP are utilizing the Miami-Dade’s Continuum of Care (CoC), which coordinates housing and services for homeless individuals and families, as their safety net while they await resettlement elsewhere in the United States, or in some cases, given the requirement to relocate, refuse to enter the CHEP altogether. As Chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, the lead agency for Miami-Dade County’s CoC, I can tell you that our network of partners and providers do not have the needed resources to deal with the increased number of arrivals, and the added pressure it puts on our already limited housing and service resources.
Providers within our CoC have sheltered at least 23 individuals and no fewer than five families who have crossed the U.S. borders as they await housing and services through the CHEP. It has been explained to me that Cuban border crossers are prioritized only after Cuban migrants crossing the Florida straits and Cuban doctors are served. Border crossers then become free cases, requiring prior approval to serve, and must wait for assessment and intake interviews, often leaving them on the streets of Miami-Dade until the approval is received and resources are made available. There is no indication this increase in arrivals will subside. In fact, arrival of border crossers have been steadily increasing over the last few years and free cases are expected to double in Miami-Dade in FY 2016.
We respectfully ask that border crossers be prioritized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with other Cuban sub-populations; and contracting agencies such as Church World Service (CWS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) be granted additional funding to serve all those who qualify for CHEP.
Additionally, other refugee services available in the community to support this population are increasingly strained given the significant increase in arrivals. We respectfully ask that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), through the Administration for Children & Families (ACF) and the Department of Health and Human Services, strongly consider enhancing or increasing funding allocations for refugee services in Florida commensurate with the increase in recent arrivals, as described above, so that Florida has the necessary resources available to respond to the needs of these eligible populations and the welcoming communities they resettle in.
As you may know, the Homeless Trust has more than 1,000 homeless individuals on the streets of Miami-Dade, many who have lived in this community for some time. In line with our Miami-Dade County Community Homeless Plan, we must prioritize this population for housing and services. On behalf of the Trust, I look forward to working with you and your Congressional colleagues on this matter.
Ronald L. Book
c: Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust Board Members
Russell Benford, Deputy Mayor, Miami-Dade County