Saturday, July 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hillsborough County set to hand off troubled program

TAMPA — Months after admitting Hillsborough County spent millions of tax dollars on a program that placed the homeless in slums, County Administrator Mike Merrill will unveil his plan to outsource the service this week.

County commissioners are scheduled to discuss Thursday a $1.1 million contract with Metropolitan Ministries, which would become the county's provider of emergency housing for homeless families and women. This is the first of three contracts Merrill plans to bring to commissioners this year to replace Hillsborough's Homeless Recovery program.

The county closed Homeless Recovery on Dec. 31, after a series of Tampa Bay Times stories highlighted lax oversight and poor management at the program. For years, Homeless Recovery sent veterans, the disabled and families with small children to live among sex offenders or in cramped, bug-infested rooming houses.

In October, the county started looking for organizations interested in replacing Homeless Recovery. Three bidders replied, and county staff is working on contracts with each to provide the services formerly offered by Homeless Recovery. The Salvation Army has offered to take homeless single adults and some single women with children, county documents show, and the Agency for Community Treatment Services, more commonly known as ACTS, has offered to help homeless people with mental health or substance abuse problems.

"This truly is a collaboration," said Metropolitan Ministries president Tim Marks. "We'll help more families than we ever could in the past."

Under the proposed contract, Metropolitan Ministries will provide emergency housing for up to 60 families at a time — 48 rooms at its Tampa Heights campus, and 12 apartments off-site. For those rooms, Metropolitan Ministries is negotiating with a complex near the University of South Florida, Marks said.

The county will pay Metropolitan Ministries $47 per room per day, or about $1,400 per month, covering rent, utilities, food, and counseling. That's nearly twice the $735 maximum voucher Homeless Recovery gave homeless families for rent and utilities.

Homeless families who pass screening will get up to six months of housing while working toward a permanent home. The average stay should be 90 days, but some families could stay longer, Marks said.

The contract calls for several new county employees to oversee outsourced homeless services, said Deputy County Administrator Sharon Subadan.

Two new case managers (not former Homeless Recovery employees) and a contract manager would work to ensure homeless people getting county help are looking for permanent solutions. Two new code enforcement officers would inspect properties where county money is helping the homeless, including Metropolitan Ministries' campus and any off-site apartments it selects.

The county "learned the hard way" the importance of routine inspections, Subadan said.

"We operated below the expectations of the community," Subadan said. "Metropolitan Ministries has a tremendous reputation. I think they're going to do a phenomenal job."

If approved, the contract with Metropolitan Ministries would start March 1. It is unclear exactly how much the county will spend between the three contracts to outsource homeless services, but Subadan said it will definitely surpass Homeless Recovery's roughly $1.2 million annual budget.

"This doesn't solve our homelessness problem in Hillsborough County," Subadan said. "We're just one part of the puzzle. But we want to do our part well."

Will Hobson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.

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