mary_miami rescue mission_web.jpgThe number of homeless persons in Broward County increased by 18 percent, from 3,225 to 3,801, over the past two years, according to a recent survey.

The study was conducted Jan. 24-25, when volunteers fanned out across the county to homeless encampments, labor pools, meal programs and homeless shelters.

In January 2009, the survey found 800 persons on the streets, a number that rose to 1,262 this year, according to the Broward County Homeless Initiative Partnership Advisory Board which conducted the survey that is required by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

Birch Willey, chairman of the advisory board, said the increase was primarily due to worsened economic conditions.

“Communities across the country are observing and expecting increases in homelessness.  People are having a harder time finding employment or the employment they do find does not pay wages enabling them to afford housing,” Willey said in a statement issued by Broward County.

“Additionally, even though the homeless count has increased, homeless shelter and services, as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, are also facing cuts at the local and State level," Willey said.

The Miami Rescue Mission/Broward Outreach Centers, an organization serving the homeless, reported in a separate statement that it served  more than 2,200 Thanksgiving-style meals comprising turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and stuffing.

More than 500 volunteers served the food to the homeless and hungry at the Mission’s three campuses in Miami, Hollywood and Pompano Beach on April 22. Some 1,400 of the meals were given out at the Miami location alone.

The homeless and needy men, women and children also got their feet washed and cared for by volunteers and Barry University podiatry students, got free haircuts and showers and information on how to turn their lives around if they were living on the streets.

In addition, the Mission provided entertainment at each location and more than 700 Easter baskets were distributed.

“This young gentleman washed and scrubbed my feet so well. It was such a blessing. This is a great day and I just feel so welcomed and happy being here,” said Mary, a Miami resident who was at her second  “Thanksgiving in April.”

“Today is a fantastic day because we are all important,” said Florence who turned up at the Broward Outreach Center in Pompano. “There are some great and important things going on here but the best part is the day is fun and everyone is smiling.”

The Mission, meanwhile, held a “graduation” ceremony for more than 120 formerly homeless men and women on Saturday at the Community Activity Center at its Miami location, 2025 NW First Ave.

The occasion marked their moving out of the Mission’s three sites as their first step toward reintegrating into society and becoming productive citizens.

“It is important to bring a completion to the lives of these men and women, some of whom haven’t been able to get a diploma or certificate of achievement ever,” said Antonio Villasuso, director of the Miami center.

MaryAnn Diamond, Broward outreach center director, added, “It is such a blessing to have all three campuses combine to have a graduation celebration. To be part of the now hope-filled lives and share their accomplishments is quite an honor.”

The Miami Rescue Mission began in 1922 and set up the Broward outreach arm in 1992, with centers in Hollywood and Pompano Beach.

It provides food, shelter, clothing, education, job training, spiritual guidance and long-term rehabilitation programs at the centers, catering to nearly 1,000 homeless people, according toa  statement from the Mission.

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