The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, saved from the threat of extinction last summer, has made its first major move as a reinvented nonprofit agency by hiring a CEO.
Andrae Bailey, the 36-year-old executive director of the charitable Community Food & Outreach Center — itself endangered until Bailey came aboard in 2009 — will take leadership of the oft-criticized commission May 1.
"The numbers of those struggling in poverty, who end up living in hotels, cars, camps or on our streets each night, continue to grow," Bailey said. "The problem is so much bigger than when the commission formed amid this great sense of urgency in 2007, which is why it's all the more important that the commission has a leader and that the community get behind this issue. We have a unique opportunity to really make a difference."
Both Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who serve alongside major business and social-service leaders on the commission, praised Bailey's selection. Dyer said Bailey's track record of building partnerships with other nonprofits made him "perfectly suited" to the job.
"No one anticipated the great recession of 2008, which completely changed the face of the homeless population," Dyer said. "This is a different time, and we need a new leader for a new problem."
Already, Bailey has shown he intends to approach the post differently than his predecessor, Ray Larsen, a former priest. Larsen's $125,000-a-year salary became a point of contention when the commission failed to make progress on its 2007 pledge to end the region's homelessness in a decade. Bailey rejected that offer and asked for $95,000 a year — slightly less than his current salary.
"He felt like he didn't want the money to be a focal point," said commission chairman John Hillenmeyer, a retired Orlando Health executive. "Personally, I love the guy. I think he's got passion, enthusiasm and a real service heart. Andrae could be successful doing just about anything he wanted, and the fact that he has chosen to work in this field says a lot about him."
Hillenmeyer said the commission approached Bailey in December about taking the job and interviewed him several times. Rather than spend several more months looking for additional candidates, Hillenmeyer said he argued to forge ahead in hiring Bailey.
"My take was: We need to move now," the chairman said. "We need somebody who knows the issues, who knows the community, who knows the government leaders."
Money has been an ongoing problem for the commission, which never received the big funding it expected from local governments.
Bailey admits finding new sources of funding to address homelessness will be one of his main tasks. Another challenge will be to get the community and its leaders to share his vision.
"This is an issue that affects so many of us, not just the people who are homeless," he said. "Our region has one in four children living in poverty. There are 400,000 people on food stamps. You can't have one part of our community that is flourishing and another crumbling — and still expect Central Florida to be a great place to call home."
Scott George, founder of the Community Food & Outreach Center and Bailey's colleague, said he has faith in him.
"We've had years of inaction and controversy," George said, "but Andrae is someone with the skill and heart and leadership ability to bring action."
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