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

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