Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County Commission faces time crunch as it considers ways to help the homeless

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County's plan to build a health clinic to serve the homeless near the county jail and the area's largest homeless shelter may be in jeopardy.

The County Commission, facing a tight timetable and a host of obstacles, will decide in coming months whether to move forward with the two-story clinic.

Among the obstacles: The $5 million federal grant that will pay for the building requires the clinic to be fully functional by April 30, 2015. The projected completion date is now December 2015, so the county must ask for an extension.

Lynda Leedy, the county's deputy director of health and community services, told the board at a workshop Tuesday that the government typically won't take back grant money if construction is under way.

"I'm not sure what they're going to say when we say we haven't started, we know we're late but we're going to ask the question anyway because it's prudent to do so," Leedy said.

The county also must confirm that local health care providers are still on board to offer in-kind services, equipment and other materials. If not, the county would be on the hook for more operating costs.

The facility is geared toward homeless families, who represent a growing percentage of the county's homeless population. It is projected to serve about 3,700 clients per year. Among the partner providers are All Children's Hospital, BayCare Health System and the Juvenile Welfare Board.

"Once we've built it, it's going to be hard to take it away, so we had better be awfully sure things are locked up for the long term on this, unless we're willing to foot that bill going forward," Commissioner Norm Roche said.

One point of contention with partner providers is the county's plan to seek a special designation from the federal government so the clinic can serve Medicaid clients who aren't homeless. Providers say that will have the county competing with them for patients. County officials disagree, saying there is plenty of unmet demand.

A consultant is working on a feasibility study, expected by May 15, that will answer that question and offer financial projections. The board is set to meet with the partner providers on May 12.

"I think it's difficult for any of our partners to make a firm commitment until they see that feasibility study," acting County Administrator Mark Woodard told the board.

There is also a space problem.

The grant would pay for roughly 16,500 square feet, but county staffers recently went room-by-room with the architect and contractor and learned that the building would have to be closer to 25,000 square feet based on the current wish list, Leedy said.

In addition to primary care, the plan calls for mental health services, dental checkups, gynecological exams and pediatric services. The project also includes a "respite center" for people who have just left the hospital but are too unstable to return to life on the street.

The board granted Leedy's request to spend $14,500 to have the architect and contractor "right-size" the clinic based on input from the partners about what should remain a priority.

Dr. Claude Dharamraj, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, urged the board to move forward with the clinic. She said other grants could help cover operating expenses.

"If you turn money away, it doesn't look too good," she said. "Why would the federal government give you money for something else?"

Commissioner Susan Latvala agreed.

"This got a little crossways and we need to put that behind us," Latvala said. "It's a new day. Let's move forward."

Pinellas County Commission faces time crunch as it considers ways to help the homeless 04/22/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 10:48am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre


    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  2. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police


    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee:

  3. Kissimmee police officer dies, one gravely wounded; Jacksonville officers shot


    KISSIMMEE — A Kissimmee police officer died and a second was gravely wounded Friday night, police Chief Jeff O'Dell said.

    Two police officers have been shot and killed in Kissimmee, authorities say. The shooting happened in the area of Palmway and Cypress around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of
  4. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  5. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]