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10-year plan suggests Pasco coordinate services to help the homeless

An ambitious new plan aims to end homelessness in Pasco County by replacing an often scattershot approach to helping the poor with a system that coordinates services and ties assistance to accountability.

The 10-year plan calls for seeking millions of dollars in public and private investments ranging from the construction of 350 units of "supportive housing," more emergency help for rent and utility payments to keep people in their homes, and the creation of centers where people can get financial counseling and employment information.

But the document itself represents a crucial missing piece of the financing puzzle: Pasco has lost out on millions of dollars in federal assistance over the years because it lacks a long-term plan to help people get into stable housing.

"You have to demonstrate you're moving people to self-sufficiency," said the Rev. Dan Campbell, president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco, which drafted the plan. "Without a coordinated plan, you're not doing that."

And it hasn't just been outside government money. Businesses and private groups have been reluctant to donate money to organizations that never seem to get a handle on the problem, he said.

"People don't want to throw money at something," said Campbell, "and see the problem get worse."

The coalition's latest count showed roughly 4,500 homeless people, but that number did not include a larger number of families that are doubled up, even tripled up, in a single home.

Most of the nearly two dozen agencies that provide services to the homeless population report they have inadequate funding. On average, each agency says it's about $80,000 short of what it needs each year.

The plan, nearly two years in the making, comes before Pasco commissioners Tuesday. Campbell said his group will ask the commission to approve the plan and to help convene an advisory committee of local leaders to set priorities and recommend funding sources.

Coming up with a detailed plan and sticking to it has paid off in many communities.

The homeless coalition in Miami-Dade, for instance, says that the number of homeless people went from 8,000 in 1993 to 994 last year.

Implementing the strategy requires money. And so far, the coalition has not identified exactly how the agencies charged with putting the plan into action would be financed.

In Miami-Dade, the program has a dedicated funding source from a 1 percent sales tax on food and beverages in larger restaurants, which produced nearly $12 million in 2007.

Campbell acknowledged funding might be difficult, but said he thinks more of the county's major business and political players recognize the problem in Pasco.

Pasco's five hospitals report absorbing a total of $30 million a year to provide services to the uninsured and homeless.

Local law enforcement agencies are often filling the role of liaisons between homeless people and the social service agencies that help them.

"It affects housing, hospitals, school systems, it affects everything," he said. "It's not just the chronic homeless, the guys standing on the side of the street with their signs."

County Commissioner Michael Cox said the timing is right for the county to move on the plan.

"The problem is not going to go away," he said. "The idea is to try and give people a way out if they want it."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

10-year plan suggests Pasco coordinate services to help the homeless 03/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 8:26pm]
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