Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

County audit of Homeless Recovery program echoes Times stories

TAMPA — Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery program did not inspect properties where for years it sent homeless people and millions of public dollars, had no policies to respond to complaints that places were filthy and dangerous, and had insufficient controls over how it spent money, a county audit released Friday has found.

The audit echoes a series of Tampa Bay Times stories last year that prompted county management to shutter the agency and outsource homeless services to local nonprofit organizations.

County commissioners ordered the audit last September, after the Times reported Homeless Recovery had paid former Tampa Port Authority chairman William "Hoe" Brown more than $600,000 over 15 years to house the poor on properties including bug-infested trailers he crammed behind his Seminole Heights business office. The Times continued investigating Homeless Recovery and found the agency paid millions of dollars for years housing the homeless in crime-ridden slums across Tampa. Monday, the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the issue.

Michelle Leonhardt, the county's internal auditor, will formally present the audit to commissioners at Wednesday's board meeting. Leonhardt has already briefed commissioners and County Administrator Mike Merrill on her findings. "We all kind of knew it was dysfunctional, and it needed fixing," Merrill said, adding he was happy Leonhardt did not find any instances of fraud.

Leonhardt and her staff spent three months examining Homeless Recovery payment records, interviewing staff and observing operations of the since-closed program, which tried to help the homeless off the streets by linking them with transitional housing and vouchers for bus passes, food and other services.

The audit details incidents previously reported by the Times involving Brown's properties. In late 2011, after several complaints about filthy and unsafe conditions, Homeless Recovery briefly stopped sending people there, but then resumed without explanation. Leonhardt could not find any evidence Jim Silverwood, then the program's manager, had followed up on complaints.

Silverwood resigned last September and his supervisor — Sammie Walthour — was fired days later. The rest of Homeless Recovery's staff has been reassigned to other departments, and the county now pays nonprofits like Metropolitan Ministries, the Salvation Army and the Agency for Community Treatment Services, more commonly known as ACTS, to provide homeless services.

Leonhardt will audit the outsourced homeless services later this year to ensure controls are in place that didn't exist at Homeless Recovery, like inspections of properties and better tracking of where clients go. Leonhardt hopes to complete that audit by the end of the year, she said Friday.

Also Wednesday, Leonhardt will present to commissioners her audit of another controversial agency — Hillsborough's Public Transportation Commission. The agency, which regulates cars for hire, such as taxis and limousines, has also drawn complaints of poor oversight.

Leonhardt found several areas for improvement, including writing stricter policies over PTC employee use of take-home cars.

The audits are on the consent agenda for Wednesday's meeting, meaning that unless commissioners request to talk about them, they will not be up for public discussion.

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or

County audit of Homeless Recovery program echoes Times stories 04/18/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2014 11:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bar review: Sample whiskey, vodka, rum, absinthe and more at Fish Hawk Spirits in Ybor

    Bars & Spirits

    While craft brewing has firmly entrenched itself in local drinking culture, craft distilling is still a very niche market. Part of this is due to outdated and arguably unfair distilling laws, and part of it is because successful distilling can often be a lot tougher and more time-consuming than brewing up a few batches …

    For $10, you can sample four of Fish Hawk Spirits’ fruit-infused vodkas, as well as its molasses-based rums, tangerine brandy and more. Old whiskey barrels lend a rustic vibe to the Ybor shop.
  2. Pinellas deputy in trouble for social media boast: 'Nothing like almost shooting someone'

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy is under investigation after a photo that shows him boasting about almost shooting someone made the rounds on social media.

    A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy is under investigation after a photo that shows him boasting about almost shooting someone made the rounds on social media. Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Gross on Thursday confirmed deputy Austen Callus' employment and said the agency is "aware of the social media post." [Facebook'
  3. ReliaQuest's benevolent hackers try to make companies more secure


    TAMPA — Their goal is to get in. Past a security desk, through a firewall, into a system they shouldn't have access to. Sometimes they'll look like a regular person in the lobby who innocently forgot their access badge. Most times they won't be seen at all, remotely and quietly prodding a company's systems from a …

    Angelo Castellano of Tampa works at his desk at ReliaQuest | | [CHARLIE KAIJO, Times]
  4. Watch the trailer for 'Mini Lights,' based on St. Petersburg's frightening urban legend


    Perhaps you've heard of the "mini lights." The tales can vary a bit, but generally, they're said to be nasty little creatures controlled by a witch that once lived near Booker Creek. They come out after dark to "get you."

    A scene from the proof of concept trailer for a mini lights movie.
  5. Democratic ad: Adam Putnam is 'silent' on GOP health bill


    Democrats are trying to attach Adam Putnam to the GOP’s unpopular plans to replace Obamacare.