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Pinellas County sheriff: Homeless shelter must be funded

To keep running the homeless shelter he set up nearly two years ago, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri dipped into his budget this year, made cuts elsewhere, and came up with $1.6 million.

But the process was painful, and one he would prefer not to repeat in 2014, he said Tuesday in a presentation to the Pinellas County Commission. A year from now, Gualtieri said he hopes to have enough private and grant funding for Safe Harbor to pull back on his agency's contribution.

Opened in January 2011 in a building near the county jail in Largo, Safe Harbor has its share of skeptics, but many city and county officials have come to view it as essential. Without it, Gualtieri and others argue, about 400 homeless people would be on the streets or in jail for minor offenses.

But who will pay for Safe Harbor, and how much Pinellas' 24 cities should contribute, is an ongoing debate. Beyond September 2013, the 400-bed shelter's funding is again an open question.

"I would prefer not to put that $1.6 million in again, or all of it," Gualtieri said. "But the reality is, if we can't find funding this year, I'm going to put it in the 2014 budget."

Without the shelter, Gualtieri said he would need to open two housing units at the jail to house the homeless who had previously lived at Safe Harbor. He said that could cost $4.5 million.

In the past, 16 of the county's 24 cities have contributed to Safe Harbor. And some, such as Clearwater, which sends more people to the shelter than any other city, plan to increase their contributions. But at most, Gualtieri said he anticipates receiving about $300,000 from the cities.

"I would expect the cities to ante up and help the county to fund this going forward," Commissioner Ken Welch said Tuesday. "I think the cities have been on board with that, but we need to see the checks."

Pinellas County sheriff: Homeless shelter must be funded 11/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 10:20pm]
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