Monday, May 04, 2009


E-mails to the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County are more frequent now, about 10 a day, thanks to this recession.

"We were in foreclosure and lost our home," a desperate writer explains. "The shelters are full and there's a waiting list. What do we do now?"

Most pleas come from people who recently lost their job and can't find a new one, said Rayme Nuckles, the coalition's executive director. They're new to homelessness and unfamiliar with the fragmented system strained by limited resources - especially emergency housing.

But help is on the way. Eleven social service agencies have been working on transitional housing projects; some just opened, others should open by summer. They'll add 528 emergency shelter beds in Hillsborough County, putting the total available at nearly 2,500.

"Organizations over the past year have really stepped up their efforts," Nuckles said. "They've had to."

Hillsborough has one of the highest homeless populations in the state - 9,500 counted during a 2007 census. Results from a similar count in February will be released Thursday.

The troubled economy has left a lot of people homeless for the first time, including entire families, Nuckles said. But other segments of the population are struggling, too.

The number of people recently released from hospitals with no place to go has long been a problem, he said. A $1 million recuperative care facility with 16 beds is set to open this summer at 1229 E. 131st St. A spokeswoman for Tampa Family Health Centers, which will operate the facility, said the agency is waiting for its license from the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Providing recuperative care is part of the coalition's 10-year plan to end homelessness. That plan is now in its seventh year.

Other projects that have opened or will soon include the Agency for Community Treatment Services' 14-unit permanent housing facility for chronically homeless single men, which opened last year. New Beginnings expects this month to open a transitional housing complex for 11 children aging out of foster care, and DACCO has added 18 beds to its transitional housing, with 12 for women with infants or children.

"The interesting part is that as we build it, the funding for the use of beds is diminishing," noted Mary Lynn Edwards Ulrey, chief executive officer of DACCO. "Obviously, as financial times are tougher and folks lose jobs, many more slots are needed for treatment ... yet the resources are drying up."

Her agency, like others, is applying for federal grants "as fast as we can," she said.

Another piece of the 10-year plan is the development of customer service centers, where people in need can find shelter, low-income housing and other assistance.

Nuckles hopes to fold the centers into already existing neighborhood service centers, which are county-operated agencies that can assist residents with rent and utility payments, among other needs. Dave Rogoff, director of the county's Department of Health & Social Services and a coalition board member, is behind the idea.

"We believe this is the right thing to do," he said.

The coalition will look next at using nearly $4 million in city and county dollars during the next three years to create programs for homeless prevention and "rapid re-housing" that keeps people from living on the streets.

It used to be that half of the families filing for bankruptcy did so because of some health issue that wiped them out financially, Rogoff said. As the economy worsens, those same circumstances easily can push people into homelessness.

"Now is the time to really prevent that," he said.

For information about the coalition, go to www. or call (813) 223-6115.

By SHERRI ACKERMAN Tampa Tribune May 4, 2009

Sunday, May 03, 2009

To help homeless, first accurately count them:

A single mother of three rents a garage from another single mother of three living temporarily in a foreclosed home belonging to a third party. The house dweller fails to use the first woman's rent payment for the utility bill as promised and everyone is scrambling for new shelter.

It's an actual case in west Pasco with social workers now trying to assist the woman who made her rent payments in good faith. So here's a question: Are the kids considered homeless? Depends upon whom you ask.

A recently completed homeless count in Pasco County would say "no" because the youngsters had a roof over their heads on the day of the survey. Yet, the federal guidelines for serving homeless children in the public school district says "yes" because the families are doubled up in a makeshift living arrangement due to economic hardship.

Therein lies one of the problems confronting advocates, social services agencies and churches serving the homeless: counting heads. Successful passage of HB 597 in the Florida Legislature on Friday is an attempt to change that. Among the provisions of the bill is creation of a single definition of homeless to include people and families living in doubled-up homes or in motels.

The just-released results of the Pasco coalitions's count illustrates the problematic definitions. On Jan. 28, volunteers calculated 4,527 people in Pasco were homeless, an 11 percent increase over a year ago. But the same survey identified just 4 percent, or 181 people, as children. The state average is 21 percent and last year's Pasco survey calculated that 1,400 children in Pasco, or 35 percent of the total count, had no place to call home.

All indications are the number of children was undercounted this year. Pasco School District social workers report helping more than 1,800 homeless children with enrollment this school year, including providing assistance obtaining supplies, clothing and transportation. Many of the children reside in doubled-up households or in motels.

Extrapolation of the district numbers with the Jan. 28 single-day count would push the county's homeless population to more than 6,100 people, or a nearly 50 percent increase over a year ago. It's an eye-opening jump attributable to a recession, high unemployment and increasing foreclosures. Nearly two-thirds of Pasco's 5,000 foreclosure cases involved primary residences.

Why does it matter? Because the community, as it maps a 10-year plan to assist the homeless, needs an accurate accounting of the far-reaching problem. Too often the public perception of Pasco's homeless is defined by a rousted encampment in the woods or a panhandler seeking beer money on a street corner. Children are an afterthought.

Ignoring the problem is unrealistic. It's too expensive and results in higher hospitalization and public safety costs to the public and diminished educational opportunities for children. Multiple studies show the annual cost of feeding, incarcerating and proving health care to a chronically homeless person is tens of thousands of dollars higher than a comprehensive assistance program. Just think of the public safety costs accumulated this week when Pasco deputies evicted a homeless encampment from private property in Hudson and investigated a stabbing involving a homeless suspect in Land O'Lakes.

While advocates continue devising the 10-year plan for homeless intervention, one church in Holiday isn't waiting for the written document. The Community United Methodist Church, where the Rev. Dan Campbell doubles as pastor and president of the Homeless Coalition of Pasco, is closing in June. It will reopen as a Joining Hands Community Mission Inc., a one-stop resource center and shelter to help homeless families with public assistance, employment searches and other tasks.

It's a commendable mission. The unprecedented and much-needed community effort in west Pasco will allow people to progress from an emergency shelter to transitional housing to a permanent home — the true aim of any homeless program.

An editorial from the St. Petesburg Times Published Saturday, May 2, 2009

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?