Make us your home page

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.


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 [email protected] 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

  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy


    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.