MIAMI’S LOTUS HOUSE TO DOUBLE ITS SIZE

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Miami’s Lotus House to double its size

New village will provide additional support for 490 women, children a neighborhood health clinic and children’s wellness center

Miami Times staff report | 3/2/2016, 2 p.m.

It’s no secret that homelessness is one of the most pressing issues facing Miami. But often overlooked is the high percentage of women and children living on Miami’s streets – about one third of the city’s homeless population – and the lack of resources meeting their needs.

Lotus House is Miami’s only shelter exclusively dedicated to women and children.

Miami’s homeless community is about to get some much-needed relief. Lotus House, one of South Florida’s nonprofits aimed at curbing homelessness among women, youth and children, is in the final stages of winning approval for a state-of-the-art shelter that will increase its current capacity from 225 to 490.

The city of Miami’s Planning and Zoning board will consider approval of the expansion at its March 2 meeting. City staff has recommended approval. If approved, construction is projected to begin this June with an anticipated completion date in September 2017.

Constance Collins, founder of Lotus House, said she is asking for community support for the project. “We have our financing in place,” Collins said.

Now in its 10th year serving Miami’s homeless from its campus in Overtown, Lotus House has welcomed more than 1,700 women and children, including 119 newborns who will some day call Lotus House their first home.

Overtown is a community where 51 percent of the Overtown lives under the poverty limit; 28 percent of adults over 16 are unemployed. Health concerns are high in Overtown, with incidences of all cancers (breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, oral prostate) significantly higher than that of Miami-Dade County, Florida or the US. Infant mortality is also high.

Lotus House is home to more than 250 women, youth and children on a daily basis who are homeless, whether due to domestic violence, medical or mental health issues, disabilities, loss of employment or other economic reasons.

Still, more than 2,400 homeless women and children are turned away annually due to lack of space. Plans for Lotus Village entail redeveloping the existing property by replacing five separate buildings with a single building nestled amidst fountains and lush landscaping.

The expansion comes as Miami-Dade County contends with a growing homeless population. An annual homeless census conducted in 2015 found that more than 1,000 people were living on the streets, marking a 30 percent increase over 2014. In fact, there were 3,297 school children registered as homeless by the Miami-Dade County Public School system at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. Miami’s urban core, which incorporates Lotus House’s neighborhood, is home to the county’s largest concentration of homeless, many of whom are children and families.

“The most difficult part of our day is turning away women and children,” said Collins. “Lotus Village will allow us to expand our mission by growing the number of guests we are able to shelter and enhancing the programs we offer. Most importantly, our new home will help us deliver a stronger quality of life and greater self-sufficiency for the most fragile among us, in addition to supporting our neighborhood with needed health and wellness support services.”

More than a traditional shelter, Lotus House offers holistic and enriched resources and tools, as well as social and supportive services that assist women and youth in transitioning from the streets by strengthening the mind, body and spirit. This model has helped more than 80 percent of those they shelter transition to homes outside the shelter system.

Lotus Village will include a holistic wellness center where guests will access primary care and restorative therapies such as massage and acupuncture; a community health clinic, an arts and activity lab; a computer library; a beauty salon; a vegetable garden; a children’s center and daycare; and a teaching kitchen where guests will learn cooking techniques in preparation for independent living and food service careers. A community pavilion will host book readings, movie viewings, live concerts and performances, dance workshops and inspirational speakers.

“The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Lotus House is the strong sense of community and togetherness inside,” says Neekisha Darasaw, a past Lotus House guest. “The team at Lotus House housed me, clothed me, mentored me, and counseled me. They gave me everything, and it’s gratifying to know that more women will now have this same experience.”

The team behind the Lotus Village project includes Miami developer and philanthropist Martin Margulies, law firm Bilzin Sumberg, and Behar Font Architects. Financing has been provided by US Trust/Bank of America. Building plans were filed with the city of Miami in January. Meanwhile, Lotus Endowment Fund, which is charged with securing financial support for Lotus House, has launched a campaign to secure community support and $25 million in private contributions and financing.

“More than an emergency shelter offering temporary housing, Lotus House provides wrap-around services that address the issues leading to homelessness with a unique approach offering sanctuary, support, education and resources that build the foundation for a better life,” says State Rep. Cynthia Stafford, who represents District 109, where Lotus House is situated.

Learn more about the Lotus Village project and ways to help at lotusendowment.org or contact Constance Collins, at constance@lotusendowment.org.