ST. PETERSBURG — The city is asking other governments to help pay an expert to develop a plan to deal with a growing homelessness problem.
Mayor Bill Foster sent out a letter Wednesday, asking Pinellas cities and county government to chip in.
The plan is to be developed by Robert Marbut, founding president and chief executive of Haven for Hope, a 37-acre complex in San Antonio, Texas, devoted to helping the homeless. Marbut will be paid $5,300 a month to develop a system to evaluate and improve the efficiency of the county's homeless services providers.
"(Marbut's) model, we believe, could be successful in Pinellas County as long as we join government and social service agencies in one accord to resolve our homeless challenges," Foster wrote. "I hope that you will consider playing a role in this exercise, and that you will assist as a partner, with your expertise and funding, in the creation of this countywide action plan."
The request comes as social service providers report seeing a new wave of homeless people.
"Every place in the county is seeing the ranks of the homeless rise," said Sarah Snyder, executive director of Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless. "We've already run through the construction workers, who were the first to lose jobs. Then it was service workers, now we're getting people with good work histories.
"We're at a loss at what to do," she said. "We're at the point where we need jobs, low-income affordable housing."
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard is open to Foster's request, but he said he wants more details before committing city funds and resources. The problem, he said, is that in tight economic times, Clearwater is already spending more than ever on the homeless.
Marbut and officials throughout the county have already started meeting. Cliff Smith, the assistant director of Pinellas County health and human services, said he supports Foster's request so far.
"We can't do what they did in San Antonio, which cost more than $116 million to build," Smith said. "But it's wide open to what we can do. It's really kind of cool. I view it as a positive that (St. Petersburg) is bringing him in to work with us."
Foster said he doesn't know how long making a plan will take but the contract runs eight months.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.