Sunday, December 17, 2017
Opinion

Column: Keeping people in the public-private partnership

Hang around enough government meetings and the formerly foreign language becomes all too familiar. A latest catch phrase is P3; government speak for public-private partnership.

That phenomenon has been around for quite a while — think of developers being required to build collector roads, not just the neighborhood streets serving their own home buyers. But this strategy grew much more common as cash-strapped governments looked for assistance in providing services. Pasco County is using this approach in developing planned tourism destinations at a baseball complex at Wiregrass Ranch and at a wake boarding operation at SunWest Park. In these instances, government owns the real estate, but private vendors will build and manage the operations.

P3, though, is insufficient as an acronym. The philosophy could use one more P, as in people. An example sits along U.S. 19 in Holiday where Metropolitan Ministries serves the needy in a former United Methodist Church. You might have heard of it. The non-profit agency envisions a transitional housing complex to shelter as many as 24 families who otherwise would be homeless. It would be the first of its kind in Pasco County.

It's considered a prototypical public-private partnership. The complex would be run by a private agency that also would provide the related services of credit counseling, aid in employment searches and other social assistance to help these families get back on their feet and eventually into a home of their own.

The private sector has donated cash and in-kind services. Pasco County agreed to contribute $600,000. Now, everyone is waiting on Gov. Rick Scott to see if a $1 million appropriation in the Legislature-approved 2014-15 state budget will survive the veto pen. It failed to do so last year as Scott axed a $1.3 million appropriation for the same project.

But remember the fourth P. There are people to be served. Plenty of them, actually. A 2013 count reported 3,305 people are homeless on any given day in Pasco County, a 25 percent drop from two years earlier attributed largely to the counting criteria, rather than a sudden surge in getting people off the streets and into affordable housing. The real eye-opener should be the 1,776 homeless children in Pasco. It's the target audience of transitional housing. All but about 400 of those kids have no home of their own, but they and their parents are doubled up with another family.

It's easy to stereotype the homeless as guys living in the woods, or standing on the medians panhandling for change, or hanging out along a public right of way downing a beer or catching a nap. Those are the chronic homeless, people out on the streets for at least a year or homeless at least four times in the lives. The Pasco County Commission dealt with this population by banning street-side soliciting six days a week and by shutting a shelter near Zephyrhills. These are embarrassments that hide, not help, the homeless.

There are emergency shelters for women and children in Pasco and for single men, but there is no location for homeless families. It's why the Metropolitan Ministries project is so vital. It's not only a long-term roof over the head (stays can be up to 24 months) but it's life-skills training to help people avoid a repeat.

Without it, said Duggan Cooley, president of the United Way of Pasco, "you're going to just keep cycling people from shelter to shelter.''

A year ago, this appropriation was a late addition to the proposed budget, a chit to try to influence the race for future Senate president. It didn't work. For starters it ended up in the district represented by then-Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who had spent the previous 60 days publicly criticizing the governor and legislative leaders for failing to expand Medicaid to 1 million uninsured Floridians. Nobody was really surprised when the governor vetoed the housing money as political payback.

But Fasano is now Pasco tax collector and the district is represented by Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey.

"The good news is my name's not on any of the appropriations,'' said Fasano who expects a governor facing re-election to act differently this year.

That would be welcome. The fourth P really should be for people.

Not for politics.

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