COMMISSIONER: MARK SHARPE
PHONE: (813) 272-5735
Question 1: Has the county done a good job of addressing homelessness since you've been on the board?
The county has begun to successfully pull together the disparate entities that have attempted to deal with this complex community issue in a more coordinated manner. What once was a fragmented effort among service providers is becoming more collaborative and effective. This is integral to improving the quality of services provided, while better safeguarding the integrity of taxpayer dollars used to address this enormous problem.
At the same time, the County has taken steps to correct problems in its Homeless Recovery Program, which represents only a portion of our total funding assistance to address homelessness. Decisions and past placements made by prior management of Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery Program have revealed some serious deficiencies that are now are being addressed. Some homeless clients were placed in badly maintained rental facilities that lacked adequate inspection. Case management protocols also needed improvement.
In September, County Administrator Mike Merrill outlined the swift actions he was taking to correct these problems.
Oversight of the Homeless Recovery Program was immediately transferred to the Department of Affordable Housing Services, whose managers enacted and trained staff in standard procedures for case management and improved customer service.
• Properties selected by clients must pass a new City of Tampa or Hillsborough County Code Enforcement inspection before County funded rental assistance is paid. Both agencies are now active partners in the process, inspecting all facilities to ensure they are safe and inhabitable.
• Rental assistance payments have been raised to the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department levels to attract more housing providers.
• A County Audit of rental payments is currently underway.
Moving forward, the County is embarking on a new service delivery model and is currently reviewing applications from experienced non-profit agencies to provide emergency/bridge housing and other, wrap-around services to the homeless or other qualifying individuals. Funding from the Homeless Recovery Program (which will permanently close on December 31) will be utilized to pay service providers, who will have to demonstrate results as outlined in service contracts. Residents will continue to receive assistance at one of five Neighborhood Service Centers in the County, where the Homeless Prevention Program is also managed for those in danger of becoming homeless.
Question 2: Should the county spend more money or commit more resources to getting people off the streets?
Money alone will not solve this multi-faceted problem. That being said, there is no greater community calling than to help our neighbors in desperate need, and we need to do a better job of working with our partners to direct resources to help the most vulnerable.
While attention has been focused on the Homeless Recovery Program and its operating budget of $1.2 million, it is important to note that the total amount of funding from all county sources to assist homeless individuals and non-profits serving the homeless in FY13 exceeded $5.5 million, including all grants and ad valorem funding. Additionally, as part of the Tampa-Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, the County will support the request for additional HUD funding for homeless programs.
Ultimately, we must focus on creating jobs that provide a living wage. That continues to be my focus.
Question 3: Should the county take the lead in bringing others in Hillsborough County, for example, the Tampa city council and the sheriff's office, together to hammer out a plan for tackling homelessness?
The County has expended enormous energy working to bring a broad-based coalition of community partners together and direct funding to agencies best qualified to aid the homeless. That coalition is being led by the revitalized Tampa-Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. This is the embodiment of a partnership between Hillsborough County, City of Tampa, private sector leaders and non-profits with the goal of establishing an effective and consistent approach to assisting the homeless and to preventing others from becoming homeless. It is important that we acknowledge the expertise of those agencies in our community that already have "boots on the ground" experience helping our most vulnerable citizens, and work more closely with them.
Working with the County, Tampa-Hillsborough Homeless Initiative is developing an inventory of suitable housing options and a coordinated intake and assessment system for better case management. The County has also provided funding for a new software system, UNITY, required by HUD to allow multiple agencies to track homeless clients and services provided, as well as available housing.