Street Smarts

Ramon Rasco is on a mission: to end Miami's homelessness

Published in 2009 Florida Rising Stars — June 2009

As a teenager growing up in Miami, Ramon Alvaro Rasco remembers seeing many homeless people on the streets of the city.

"It made a lasting impression," says Rasco, 32. "You want to be able to act and do something—and do something effectively, rather than giving people money on the street."

When his parents fled from Cuba shortly after Castro took power, their families were not much better off than those homeless people Rasco wanted to help as a child. His own parents and grandparents lost everything and had to rebuild their lives in a new country. They did so with gusto: Rasco's father became a lawyer like his own dad and started two banks. Rasco chose, early on, to follow in their footsteps.

After prep school, Rasco packed up for Harvard and Columbia Law School. When he returned to his native city, he joined mega-firm Greenberg Traurig, working in the corporate department, where he enmeshed himself in the world of banking and corporate securities.

But three years later, Rasco opted to move to a smaller firm, 42-year-old Podhurst Orseck, where he specializes in litigation, primarily on the plaintiff's side, though he keeps his hand in commercial cases as well. Rasco is a shareholder at U.S. Century Bank, the second financial institution started by his father, Ramon E. Rasco. This allows him to keep close tabs on the banking industry, although banking cases are a small part of his practice.

"The personal injury and wrongful death work, the aviation litigation—that really is the most rewarding work because in many instances—in every instance—we take a case of someone who's been harmed in one way or another," he says. "It certainly is a great deal about helping the underdog, because in a lot of situations our clients don't have the money to pay us on an hourly basis."

Rasco never forgot those homeless people he had seen as a youth, and four years ago Rasco joined the Community Partnership for the Homeless (CPH). He is now on the organization's board and is chairing this year's annual Celebrity 5K race. Last year, it attracted 3,000 runners.

Rasco takes pride in the CPH's accomplishments. "When it was formed in the early '90s, there were over 8,000 homeless in Miami. Now the homeless count is down to 1,000." But he cautions that the current economy means more work must be done.

The organization has had a 63 percent success rate of keeping the homeless in the jobs it finds them—and off the streets. The homeless, for whom transportation can be an impossible hurdle, can find all the services they need under one roof—including health and dental care, day care, public-school enrollment, job training and a housing office. While in temporary housing, residents must go job-hunting every day. The Miami CPH has become a model for similar organizations in other cities.

"They have looked at what we are doing here and are following our example. In fact, we are in the process of creating a national program other areas can adopt," notes Rasco.

 As for Rasco's career, he has a longtime goal of starting his own bank, just like his father.

But for now, he's happy handling personal injury cases and making a difference in his clients' lives: "That's how you do this job most effectively—if they [cases] do become personal."

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