After retiring as Chief Financial Officer for the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), John Hearn – a former member of our Board of Directors – was looking forward to traveling and relaxing. But we had other plans for him.

When Brent Trotter announced his retirement in October 2016, John graciously accepted the role of interim President/CEO and immediately went to work. Now, nearly a year later, with all the good things he’s begun, we simply couldn’t let him go.

Recently, we sat down with him to learn more about his plans for the Coalition’s future as our official President and CEO.

How did you initially become involved with the Coalition?

Doug Spencer, who’s now our Board Chair, introduced me. We worked together at OUC, and he told me the Coalition was looking for someone to fill a position on the Board of Directors who had a financial background. I felt like it was a good match of resources and desires. That’s how I became involved with the Coalition and got to know about its mission. That was back in 2006. I served on the Board for nine years and also took on the role of Treasurer.

What are some of the benefits you’ve seen as we’ve moved toward being a housing-focused shelter?

When you look at it, in 2016, we put over 1,000 people into permanent housing. That kind of impact is truly significant. We feed a lot of people, we shelter a lot of people, but the ultimate goal is to get them back into housing.

I think another significant thing has been participating in our community’s Coordinated Entry System, which allows us to identify those who are the most in need. Nationally, the Coordinated Entry System is fairly new. Daune Brittlebank [Director of Program Services] and her staff looked at it and said, ‘This is effective. Let’s be a part this.’

It’s great to see the case managers and others who are really excited about the results they see. ‘We found this, we located that, we found another source in the community for housing that will really help our guests out.’ Many of our clients don’t qualify for Permanent Supportive Housing or Rapid Re-Housing, so we’re reconnecting them with family or helping them find other housing in the community.

What has changed since your role has evolved from a Board Member to the President/CEO?

I sat on the Board because I have a desire to help people. I saw the Coalition as a wonderful opportunity to help those who are the greatest in need.  But it wasn’t until I got on this side that I really began to sense some of the complexities and issues of homelessness. I learn something new every day. One of my hesitancies in taking this job was that I didn’t know all the ins and outs of homelessness. The staff has been really great about teaching me. I’ve immersed myself in the language, and I’m beginning to see how things work.

What really amazes me is the number of services that are around us. We have IDignity, Healthcare Center for the Homeless, Orlando Union Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, Christian Service Center, and a host of others who all provide crucial services.  The community’s committed to dealing with this issue, and only together are we able to make a difference and work through it effectively.

What has been the greatest achievement you’ve seen, so far?

The greatest achievement I’ve seen is community collaboration. By establishing communication and understanding among our partners, we’re creating a clear vision of how we each fit in, what we’re doing, and where we’re going. It’s so important to have solid relationships with other organizations, our local government, and of course, our donors and supporters.

What would you like the Coalition to look like a year from now?

A year from now, I expect us to be a fully housing-focused shelter. I also think that we’ll be well along the path to providing an emergency drop-in center. Whether that’s a daytime or overnight shelter, there’s a lot of discussion around that. But, I expect to be significantly along the way, because we see that need in the community.

Are there any particular stories from clients that have impacted you?

The story that stands out to me is Mr. D’s. He had been in and out of our facility for quite some time. He’d been in the Men’s Pavilion years ago and in the Men’s Service Center once before. He came back as part of an outreach effort that our staff initiated to engage the homeless immediately around our campus. We actually had to bend the rules to get him in because he does not have identification.

Mr. D is originally from Jamaica and has been on the streets for over 20 years. He was quite frankly on the way to dying out there. We ended up taking him back in, and we’re continuously committed to working on his identity and helping him get back on his feet. We’re working with IDignity, Catholic Charities, and the legal system, but it’s an extremely difficult case.

Every story is unique, but this speaks to the fact that homelessness is complicated and not everybody fits into a category. It speaks to the heart of our organization, because we aren’t going to give up on Mr. D or anyone else who needs our help.

 

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