TAMPA — Hillsborough County government should close its troubled Homeless Recovery program and seek help from private social service agencies experienced at finding housing for the poor, county staff will tell commissioners today.
A staff memo released to the Tampa Bay Times says the county should ask Hillsborough's nonprofit homeless aid organizations to submit proposals for how they could help provide emergency housing and other services for the poor, in the hopes a new program could replace Homeless Recovery by Jan. 1.
Staff members will discuss the report with county commissioners at today's board meeting.
The move to end the county program comes after the Times reported last month that Homeless Recovery caseworkers sent clients to live in squalid, crime-ridden properties owned by William "Hoe" Brown, a prominent Republican fundraiser and former Tampa Port Authority chairman who resigned from several public posts in July. Brown earned more than $600,000 in public money from the program.
Homeless Recovery's manager resigned last month and his supervisor was fired. In late September, county officials acknowledged significant gaps in records hampered their efforts to examine the agency.
Payment records the county has been able to provide the Times illustrate other problems.
Founded in 1989, Homeless Recovery has made $4.3 million in rent payments to more than 600 private landlords across the county since 2009. Among the recipients have been at least 23 private investment firms, as well as property owners with criminal histories, records show.
Payments to the top 20 earners — a list that includes the Salvation Army as well as for-profit operators like Brown — accounted for more than $3.5 million. Many of these places also house sex offenders and were often the scenes of assaults, thefts and other crimes, drawing visits by police or deputies on a near daily basis in the past four years, records show.
Hillsborough administrators want to maintain the level of funding and scope of services offered by Homeless Recovery, according to county spokeswoman Lori Hudson.
The program had a budget of $1.2 million this year with a full-time staff of 12. The report concludes, however, that the public dollars would be better spent through experienced nonprofits.
"Recent events have brought to light that while many persons were assisted . . . the quality of the outcomes have been questionable and not well-documented," the report states.
"It has become apparent that our nonprofit peers are capable of providing homeless services . . . with better documented outcomes."
Homeless Recovery staff should be reassigned to other positions in the county, according to the report. The program's Tampa office could be used by case workers from other organizations, but not county staff.
In the last few weeks, county administrators have consulted social service leaders like Maria Barcus, CEO of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, and Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Barcus, who hopes a new program addresses Hillsborough's lack of emergency and affordable housing.
Metropolitan Ministries is Tampa's largest nonprofit that helps the homeless, but Marks said whether his agency takes a leadership role in reforming county government's homeless services is to be determined.
"Our heart is full of compassion for families in crisis, and we're going to see what we can do," Marks said. "Hopefully we can make it better and address some of the systemic problems there."
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.