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County puts Pinellas Hope funding in budget permanently

A charity for the homeless that began in Pinellas County almost five years ago has, like its clientele, never known exactly where its next pay check would come from.

The county has helped fund the program, as have some cities, but the process is informal and each year's budget season brings renewed uncertainty.

That has finally lessened this year, following a decision by County Administrator Bob LaSala to embrace Pinellas Hope as a fixture in the region's efforts to combat homelessness.

Opened in 2007 in response to the county's swelling homeless population, Pinellas Hope is part tent city, part food pantry. On about 20 acres of land provided by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, it houses more than 250 men and women in tents and wooden sheds called casitas.

Along with in-kind donations, the Catholic Charities-run program has depended on the county's annual $500,000 contribution, as well as smaller offerings from cities like St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.

But each year the County Commission has had to reapprove funding for Pinellas Hope, treating it like a one-time expense that happens to come calling just before the new fiscal year. On Thursday, LaSala said he has decided to make it a permanent part of the health and human services budget he will propose in 2013, ending its position as an outlier.

To pay for the program and two other homeless initiatives this coming fiscal year — a total cost of $840,000 — the County Commission plans to pull money out of a special fund it created to weather the recession.

Some cities are considering kicking in more money than they have in the past. Clearwater has not contributed to Pinellas Hope since it wrote a check for $50,000 the first year the program started, but it is now planning to give $25,000. Another $12,000 will come through a federal grant that the city administers.

The city's own homeless shelter, called Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project (CHIP), closed last year and the city has been directing people to Pinellas Hope. More recently, the city has cracked down on its homeless population by passing new laws, one of which bans them from sitting or lying down on public sidewalks.

"We know that (Pinellas Hope) is responding to some of our demand for support for the homeless, so we feel like we should assist them in the cost of doing that," said City Manager Bill Horne.

Pinellas Park also may increase its contribution this year. City Manager Mike Gustafson said the council had recommended, but has yet to vote on, boosting funding for Pinellas Hope to $35,000, up from its usual $25,000.

St. Petersburg has budgeted $100,000 for Pinellas Hope in 2012-13, the same amount it contributed this fiscal year.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com.

County puts Pinellas Hope funding in budget permanently 09/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 15, 2012 2:49pm]
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