TAMPA — For the second time in two years, Hillsborough County's top homeless agency is looking for a leader. But this could be a quick search.
After 20 months on the job, Maria Barcus is stepping down as CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. She told the board that oversees the Homeless Initiative that she plans to retire in August. For her replacement, board members are looking to the community they want to emulate — St. Louis.
The board is trying to lure Antoinette Triplett, a manager in the city of St. Louis' homeless services division, according to Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, who is on the board. Triplett could not be reached for comment.
Barcus' tenure was a time of transition for the Homeless Initiative, which is responsible for coordinating the local effort to deal with homelessness. The organization has a new name (formerly the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County), a new board of directors and, for the first time in years, local officials trust its count of the local homeless population.
Barcus took over an agency with a shaky track record in January 2013. For years, the coalition had failed to produce reliable data on Hillsborough's homeless population, and thus was unable to measure its success or failure. The homeless census count fluctuated wildly under former CEO Rayme Nuckles, peaking at 17,775 in 2011.
Under Barcus, the number stabilized: 2,275 in 2013, 2,243 this year. Local leaders credit that as one of her chief accomplishments.
"She's done a great job, considering the circumstances," Merrill said.
Barcus, 62, said she plans to spend more time with her husband and their grandchildren. Before this job, she held similar positions at Miami-area housing assistance agencies for nearly 20 years.
"We've made some major, major changes that, I think, will provide a good base for moving forward," Barcus said.
Barcus earned $120,000, a base salary of $100,000 with $20,000 extra paid in lieu of health insurance (which she got through her husband's employer). The Homeless Initiative has a roughly $1 million annual budget, funded primarily by contributions from local governments. The board is still negotiating salary and other terms with Triplett, Merrill said.
If Triplett does agree to come here, Hillsborough will have plucked someone from an organization hailed by a national homelessness expert as one of the best. Triplett, from an office in city government, coordinates dozens of programs run by private and nonprofit agencies in St. Louis, which has decreased its homeless population by one-third in nine years.
Barcus has met the woman the Homeless Initiative board is wooing to replace her. Barcus traveled to St. Louis in January, along with Merrill and other board members. The trip was recommended by Phil Mangano, a national homelessness expert who told Hillsborough officials they should model their homeless services after St. Louis'.
Merrill returned convinced a St. Louis-like system, with some changes, could work here. Barcus was skeptical.
When asked this week about Triplett, Barcus declined to comment. When asked about St. Louis, she didn't say much.
"St. Louis is a very different place," she said. "Their homeless population is different, the weather is different. . . . I don't know how much of that is transportable."
Merrill, meanwhile, said a Triplett hire would be "huge."
"They've had great success (in St. Louis)," he said. "We wouldn't have to start at the beginning of the learning curve. We could go right to the middle."
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]