About the Executive Director

Frances Esposito, Executive Director

Helping Broward's homeless

Center director must balance needs of clients, politicians

This was an article written in the Miami Herald on September 8, 1998 by Karla Bruner about Frances Esposito, the executive director of the Homeless Assistance Center.

The people who built the homeless assistance center in Fort Lauderdale have money and influence but little experience with homeless issues. The people with lots of experience with homeless issues have little money and influence. The two must now come together.

It is Frances Morrisey Esposito's job to make sure they do.

Esposito, the former chief operating officer at Camillus House in Miami, is the new executive director of the Fort Lauderdale homeless center. As the center's new director, she will have to bring together the center's board, homeless advocates, community members, center staff, volunteers and politicians, all working toward the same goal.

It will not be easy.

"It's all those sectors of our community that are going to contribute to the solutions," said Esposito, who took over the center August 31. "None of us can do it in a vacuum. We need each other as partners."

Esposito said the problems facing the homeless in Broward are rooted in political, social, and economic issues. And they must be addressed on each level.

Pulling different sides together has been one of Esposito's strong suits, said Ali Waldman, an attorney and executive member of the Broward Partnership for the Homeless.

"We're all business people, but we don't know much about operating a homeless center," Waldman said of the partnership's board, which has a contract with Broward County to build and operate the $7 million, 200-bed center at 600 W. Sunrise Blvd.

Webmaster's note - The actual cost is $9.4 million and the center address is actually 920 NW 7th Avenue.

"Fran's coming here will bridge that gap," Waldman said, "She makes us feel comfortable."

Laura Carey, executive director of the Broward Coalition for the Homeless, said Esposito's reputation is a business person who understands the problems facing the homeless makes her a good choice to run the Fort Lauderdale center.

"What homeless people like is the grace of Camillus House, that you can go and not be judged," Casey said. "I think she will help build our continuum of care and get more people to self-sufficiency, not just give them three hots and a cot."

Bringing a similar grace to Broward will be a major challenge for Esposito, who says she recognizes the need to "marry business principles and practices with the altruism of social services."

The Fort Lauderdale center is set to open January 1. Webmaster's note - the open date was actually February 1. It will be part of a three-center system - there's already one in Hollywood and another is planned for North Broward - that emphasizes the progression of homeless people from emergency shelters to transitional programs to permanent housing.

Esposito first became involved with the homeless in 1990, when she started a community service program while working as a legal administrator at a downtown Miami law firm.

She thought the program would be a rewarding experience for the staff and attorneys. Before long, she had them working the food line at Camillus House, which offers programs to the poor and homeless.

Through that work, she began to understand how a "human services organization functioned within a community," she said. About a year later, she became on-site project director of the Community Homeless Assistance Project, which consisted of three trailers under Interstate 395. It was the first phase of Miami-Dade's programs of homeless services, which ultimately led to th construction of Miami's first homeless asssistance center.

She suspected that the experience would change her life.

It did.

Esposito, who was raised in Mamaroneck, N.Y., joined Camillus House about six years ago.

She immediately brought "corporate sophistication" to the charity while remembering that the chairty's clients came first, said Brother Paul Johnson, executive director of Camillus House.

He added that Esposito who brings the "heart, the human element that is essential if you're going to gain the confidence of those people who are so injured."

But Johnson cautioned that Esposito will be independent.

"She can be pretty demanding and pretty straightforward and is not going to be impressed with who people are or their political connections, " Johnson said. "The most important thing for her is the people she's serving. She's not going to be swayed."

Even with her independent streak, Esposito is a consensus builder with a "very pleasant, efficient collegial working style," said Lynn Summers, executive director of the Community Partnership for the Homeless in Miami.

"Some people might take this position because they believe it's a springboard to status," Summers said. "She's not a politically ambitious person. Her agenda is absolutely to do the best job she can do."

Esposito, who has five children, said much of her understanding and empathy for the poor and homeless came from her own background.

"As the oldest of nine children, I was very familiar with what it feels like to be perceived as someone on the outside," she said.

Esposito lives with her husband, Gary Brooks, a civil litigator, in Miami Beach. She still uses her ex-husband's name because that's how she is recognized. She said she uses Morrisey as her middle name so her mother can go around her Coral Springs neighborhood and say "that's my daughter."

While at Camillus House, Esposito stayed out of the limelight.

"It's about the team, and it's about the clients," Esposito said. "I only have the privilege of creating an infrastructure and sharing my experience and knowledge. It will be the line staff, case managers, program directors, facility managers, volunteers, the community, the board of directors that will determine the success."

So far the community, county government, homeless advocates and the center's board have been working hard together to get the homeless assistance center off the ground. Several million dollars were raised by the private sector to construct the building, and the county has come up with a temporary plan to finance homeless services.

But the relationship has had some rocky moments. Comunity groups demanded certain commitments - including a no walk-up policy and a limit on the length of stays - before agreeing to it. Webmaster's note - the current limit is 60-90 days, on a case by case basis And advocates for the homeless have criticized the center as not having programs to help the chronically homeless.

The result is a political element that Esposito will have to face, said Johnson of Camillus House.

"She's going to have to work with politicians who have an agenda and whose agenda isn't always the homeless, " he said. "I told her 'Fran, be very careful....You say that little prayer before you go to work: God, these are your people. I'm your instrument, but you have to help me.'"

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