Wednesday, March 28, 2007

House council OKs bill to battle homelessness:

Florida residents on the verge of becoming homeless could get an extra boost from the state if a measure that cleared a House council Tuesday makes it into law.

The bill, which would fund grants for local agencies that work to prevent homelessness, passed through the Healthcare Council as it makes its way toward the House floor. An identical bill is being offered in the Senate.

Rep. Faye Culp, a Tampa Republican backing the House measure, said homelessness is one of the key problems facing her city. Instead of paying for more temporary shelters, she said, the state should use its money to find permanent solutions for people who need a place to stay.

"Temporarily being in a shelter is not stable," she said. "It is not what we should strive for."

The idea for her bill, Culp added, originated in "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future," the far-reaching list of goals laid out by House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami.

Culp's measure would include a $250,000 grant to a Tampa group called Connected by 25 that works to find housing for young adults who are about to be phased out of the foster-care system. The group now relies solely on donations from individuals and businesses.

If the Tampa program proves successful, Culp said, she may try to cast a wider net for it during next year's legislative session. But for now, she said, she hopes other communities will view Connected by 25 as an example of how to prevent homelessness.

In Manatee County, the homelessness problem is growing.

There are more than 2,000 people without homes in the area, said Ashley Canesse, development director for the local Salvation Army.

"It's very hard to afford permanent housing in Manatee County right now," she said.

Many of Manatee's homeless people, she said, are local residents who just couldn't make ends meet in the face of rising costs.

A program like Culp's would be a positive step for the county, Canesse said.

"That's what we all want to do," she said. "We all know that people fare better if they're living in their own personal housing."

Bradenton Herald Staff Writer

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