Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Proposed Pasco homeless center inches closer to final approval

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners listened Tuesday afternoon as more than 30 people opposed a proposed land-use change that would pave the way for a new homeless center near Ridge and Little roads in west Pasco.

But when newly-elevated Chairman Mike Wells Jr. explained his rationale for supporting the homeless center, he found a less receptive audience.

The opponents, mostly residents of the Orchard of Radcliff condominiums, stood and walked out.

"The homeless are already here. We can’t continue to ignore them,’’ said Wells. "We owe it to them and to you to do something about it.’’

The debate came as Pasco submitted an amendment to its comprehensive land-use plan to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. The proposed change, covering five parcels totaling nearly 57 acres at the corner of Galen Wilson Boulevard and Ridge Road, included county office buildings, a senior center, the closed landfill and a former Boys & Girls Club clubhouse and headquarters that is envisioned as a one-stop resource center for the homeless, known as a navigation center. The former clubhouse, on Youth Lane, drew all of the attention.

"I believe a navigation center is going to put two vulnerable populations at risk. That would be the children and that would be the seniors, said Nickie Kross.

She lives in the nearby Orchard of Radcliff condominiums, a 152-unit complex for people 55 and older. Residents said they feared increased crime, and the location, not far from Chaso Elementary School, is ill-suited to serve the homeless.

The navigation center, which still needs county permits to operate, is envisioned as a one-stop resource to be owned by the county and managed by the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County. It would take people from outdoor homeless camps and provide them with short-term housing, case management, job training, financial planning skills and other help before they head to a separate place to live. The Pasco Housing Authority is setting aside 50 vouchers under the federal Section 8 program to make a supply of reasonably priced housing available.

The coalition has reported there were 2,512 homeless people in the county during its count in January, including 418 considered chronically homeless. Additionally, the school district estimated 565 unsheltered children in 308 households.

The Pasco Sheriff’s Office has said it has counted approximately 100 homeless camps across the county. The idea of the navigation center is to bring in those camp residents one group at a time to try to get them off the streets and on their way to permanent housing. The center would be secured by either an off-duty deputy or a private security guard and would be available to take in people 24 hours a day.

Commissioner Jack Mariano repeated his opposition to the location, near a commercial shopping center and about a half-mile from the entrance to the Crane’s Roost neighborhood. He again said the commission should explore turning the closed jail into the navigation center.

Sheriff Chris Nocco has said previously the jail, built in the 1970s and closed in 2009 by former Sheriff Bob White, would be too expensive to retrofit as a homeless center.

The conditional use permit, allowing the navigation center to operate, is expected to be considered by the Pasco Planning Commission in December and by the county commission in January. Commissioners also are seeking state dollars to help defray the cost of renovating the former Boys & Girls Club.