State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico (Pic by Senator Storms, via flsenate.gov)

State legislators have launched a bipartisan effort to combat Florida’s homelessness crisis, which garnered national attention this past weekend.

A press release from state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, announces the the two legislators “have filed legislation for the 2012 Florida legislative session that seeks to raise awareness and funding to help combat homelessness.”

“The epidemic of homeless schoolchildren and families is a tragedy that deserves widespread public attention and urgent action from Florida policymakers,” the press release states.

This past Sunday, national television program 60 Minutes shed much-needed light on one of the little-discussed and truly heartbreaking aspects of the country’s persistent economic problems: an epidemic of homeless schoolchildren. The subject of the program was Seminole County, Florida, where there are 1,100 homeless students in its K-12 schools.

The program followed a handful of families with young young children, who were homeless for the first time in the lives. Many of them were living in their cars because shelters were full and there were few public programs available to them.

According to the press release:

House Bill 531 and Senate Bill 1130 would allow Floridians when registering vehicles and renewing driver licenses to each donate a dollar for programs to help the homeless. If implemented, the legislation is estimated to raise roughly $1.5 million a year for assistance to the homeless.

The legislation is similar to a bill approved on a bipartisan vote earlier this year by the full Florida House of Representatives but failed to win final approval in the Florida Senate. Under the measures sponsored by Representative Reed and Senator Storms, contributions made through Department of Motor Vehicles forms would be placed in a state trust fund that would assist Florida’s Office on Homelessness, which provides grants to local agencies serving the homeless and conducts public-awareness campaigns about the plight of the homeless in our state.

Florida’s foreclosure crisis, along with high unemployment and austere budgets, have resulted in numerous homeless families in Florida, some of whom are forced to live out of their cars or in even more desperate conditions. The following link to a “60 Minutes” episode sheds light on the heartbreaking challenges facing some of these families.

“Children deserve hope and our help,” Reed said in a statement. “I believe that Floridians want to help the homeless, and our legislation to allow residents to make it easier to contribute to the cause of homelessness will bring needed hope to struggling Florida families.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed  $12 million dollars from the state’s general revenue fund to the National Veterans’ Homeless Support Group for “homeless housing assistance grants.” This item was one of the many public assistance programs Scott vetoed.

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