Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough spent millions housing the homeless but can't track where they lived

People line up outside the Hillsborough Homeless Recovery office in August. The agency came under scrutiny earlier this month after a Times report that clients were sent to live in a squalid mobile home park owned by William “Hoe” Brown.

EVE EDELHEIT Times

People line up outside the Hillsborough Homeless Recovery office in August. The agency came under scrutiny earlier this month after a Times report that clients were sent to live in a squalid mobile home park owned by William “Hoe” Brown.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County has poured millions of tax dollars over the past 20 years into a program meant to cover rent for homeless people.

But county leaders can't say for sure whether the landlords they paid actually housed anyone.

A computer system tracks rent checks paid each month under the Homeless Recovery program. The system, though, does not record the addresses where tenants are supposed to be living.

As a result, Hillsborough officials acknowledged, they have no way to verify where tenants stayed in a given month without hand-checking each case file, a process they estimated would take hundreds of hours.

County spokeswoman Lori Hudson confirmed the records-keeping gap this week to the Tampa Bay Times, which has for weeks sought a list of rental properties that have housed clients of the embattled Homeless Recovery agency.

Hudson said the record-keeping flaw is hampering efforts to review basic details about thousands of rent payments made over the years. County officials have been trying to piece together two separate databases to compile the information.

"We're talking about dueling, different systems, and that's what we're dealing with," Hudson told the Times on Wednesday. "That's the challenge in all of this, is the antiquated system."

Homeless Recovery was created in 1989 to help the homeless get into housing. The agency — which has a $1.2 million budget, including $806,500 in county money — came under scrutiny after the Times reported on Sept. 8 that case workers sent people to the squalid, makeshift mobile home park owned by William "Hoe" Brown, a prominent Republican fundraiser and former chairman of the Tampa Port Authority.

Homeless Recovery sent clients, including families, to live in tiny, dilapidated, bug-infested mobile homes and a garage Brown illegally rented out behind his office. Homeless Recovery's managers said they did not have the resources to inspect rental properties where they sent clients.

Three employees have left the county since the Times story. Homeless Recovery's manager resigned and his supervisor was fired. Another county employee who worked with the agency was fired after an investigator found he had lied about earning $1,200 through the program as a landlord.

County Administrator Mike Merrill pledged this month to start inspecting rental properties before their owners could earn county dollars. Dozens of other Homeless Recovery clients are living in substandard housing, according to Merrill. He said problems in the agency were "systemic" but offered no details.

Last week, county commissioners voted to have the county's auditor investigate Homeless Recovery. Record-keeping problems will be one focus of the audit, Hudson said.

When informed of the problems this week, several county commissioners decried the shoddy record-keeping.

"It's outrageous that tax dollars were spent and records were not kept . . . in a way that they could be quickly or easily accessed for transparency and accountability," Commissioner Victor Crist said.

In August, the Times requested detailed payment records from the county to assess conditions at other properties that have gotten Homeless Recovery money. The list that was provided was riddled with errors. In many cases, it listed houses and apartment complexes as belonging to the wrong owners.

In subsequent interviews, county officials said it would cost thousands of dollars and take weeks of poring through its records system to find the addresses.

The county intends to replace the flawed computer system by the end of the year, Hudson said.

Merrill has declined to speak to the Times about Homeless Recovery until the county's audit, which could stretch into 2014, is complete.

Will Hobson can be reached at whobson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400.

Hillsborough spent millions housing the homeless but can't track where they lived 09/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 11:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Yale dean on leave over offensive Yelp reviews leaves post

    Bizarre News

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Yale University dean who was placed on leave over offensive reviews she posted on Yelp has left her position at the Ivy League institution, school officials said Tuesday.

  2. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  3. The people you meet along O.J. Howard Lane

    Bucs

    AUTAUGAVILLE, Ala. —The screen door hangs open to Laura's Country Kitchen but the dining room is empty with no one to feed.

    OJ Howard (far right) is seen in a photo from his adolescent years at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala., on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Howard served as an usher in addition to attending regular services at this church.
  4. St. Pete Pride schedule and live blog

    Special Topics

    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth Avenue …

    A local business rings in Pride 2017 with some window decorations.