Friday, July 20, 2018
Politics

Hillsborough homelessness agency exec quits after Times article

TAMPA — The manager of a Hillsborough County homelessness agency resigned a day after the Tampa Bay Times revealed his agency sent clients to live in substandard apartments owned by former Tampa Port Authority chairman William "Hoe" Brown.

Jim Silverwood, 49, had worked for the county since 1989, the year the Homeless Recovery agency was created. He earned $72,218 this year, according to county records, to oversee the agency, which tries to help homeless people to self-sufficiency with programs including rental assistance, food vouchers, bus passes and counseling.

Silverwood resigned Monday and was unable to be reached Tuesday. His resignation was confirmed by county communications director Lori Hudson.

An article Sunday in the Times reported that Homeless Recovery has paid Brown more than $600,000 since 1998 to house its clients in his rental units.

Brown resigned as port chairman in July after the Times disclosed he rented illegal and dilapidated mobile homes behind his business office to the poor.

Silverwood and his supervisor had said in interviews that Homeless Recovery caseworkers do not refer clients to specific properties like Brown's or those run by other landlords, and that they never received complaints about Brown's rental properties. Hundreds of emails between Brown and agency employees show otherwise.

Caseworkers repeatedly sent clients to Brown's Seminole Heights properties, which have drawn 453 Tampa police calls for service since 2005, records show, for incidents including a homicide, two drug overdoses, domestic violence, drug crimes and disturbances caused by intoxicated and mentally ill people.

Two emails, one written by Silverwood, acknowledge complaints about the safety and conditions of the rooms in Brown's 13-unit extended-stay motel at 7908 N Florida Ave. When shown the emails, Silverwood said he had forgotten about them.

Friday, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill sent a memo to county commissioners outlining changes to the Homeless Recovery agency. He moved the agency to a different department, ordered an internal audit and said staff would ensure properties meet code before the county makes a rental payment.

Merrill declined an interview request, instead releasing a statement through Hudson.

"I immediately took action to have the program audited, to move the program under Affordable Housing, to have Code Enforcement review properties, and to take control of the program for the safety and well-being of the clients," the statement said. "Once the audit is finalized and all information is known, I will be able to address your questions. Pending the findings of the audit, I may take additional action."

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]

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