Looking to the next decade, the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County is updating its plan to prevent and end homelessness.
So this week, it is inviting anyone with insight or suggestions to share them Monday and Tuesday at Hyde Park United Methodist Church.
The sessions will focus on a half-dozen topics — from health and employment to measuring the performance of homeless assistance efforts — identified in the process of writing the coalition's next 10-year plan.
Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione says this is a good chance for people on both sides of last year's debate about panhandling to come together and refine a strategy for tackling the problem.
"The common ground was everyone agreed that panhandling was the result of much larger social problems," said Montelione, a member of the steering committee for the effort. "And many people agreed that there had to be more of an effort put behind finding a solution, not just getting rid of the evidence that you see on the street, the panhandlers."
The coalition is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes collaborative efforts to deliver housing and services to homeless people and coordinates almost $7 million in federal, state and local resources for those programs in Hillsborough.
The coalition held three planning meetings in early June and gathered information through an online survey from people who could not attend those meetings.
Among the six topics scheduled to be discussed this week is an approach known as "housing first," which seeks to combat chronic homelessness by putting the most vulnerable men and women into permanent housing and backing that up with individualized counseling.
In cities such as Los Angeles and Denver, officials say the combination has saved taxpayers money by reducing the costs of incarcerating and giving emergency medical treatment to homeless individuals and helped them stabilize their lives, stay healthy and apply for jobs, veterans benefits or other aid.
In Hillsborough, county commissioners voted in May to support a pilot "housing first" project with $2.1 million in federal community development funds.
That money is making it possible for the nonprofit Mental Health Care of Tampa to buy and rehabilitate the Villa Seville, a 24-unit apartment complex on N 15th Street.
Once open, possibly in late October or early November, the complex will provide permanent housing to some of Hillsborough's 700 chronically homeless men and women.
The county also is allocating $317,000 for counseling and support services so that Mental Health Care can provide the clients not only with a furnished apartment, but also with access to a nurse or therapist 24 hours a day.
Local advocates, who include a task force led by prominent local business executives, hope Villa Seville establishes a track record that attracts private-sector support for similar projects around the county.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.