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Editorial: Better serving the homeless

HomeLessNESS doesn't follow county or city lines, and neither should state funding. Months after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed badly needed money for building a homeless shelter for families in Pasco County, two Pinellas County legislators are proposing a necessary overhaul of the haphazard system the state uses to pay for emergency homeless services.

Currently, organizations that provide emergency shelter to the homeless, such as Pinellas Safe Harbor, can't count on state money from one budget year to the next. The total amount of money available depends on political whim and competition from other priorities. And who gets whatever money there is often depends on the influence of particular legislators rather than on whether a program is well-run and serves its purpose.

After Scott vetoed $1.3 million to build housing for homeless families in Pasco County, Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, agreed they will push for a better system. They want to establish a specific source of money for emergency shelters, perhaps from documentary stamps paid on real estate transactions. They also want the Legislature to establish a formal process for determining how to distribute the money statewide so the money follows need (such as the dearth of available beds for families), and well-run shelters can have some certainty about how much money they can expect from year to year.

Such a system should improve services and allow for recognition when one county's responsible efforts, such as Pinellas' Safe Harbor, end up serving residents from neighboring counties — such as the 161 Pasco residents who stayed at Safe Harbor last year. Homelessness isn't confined to geographic lines, and the state's response shouldn't be either. A statewide look at creating a reliable source of money for emergency homeless services makes sense.

Editorial: Better serving the homeless 07/29/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 29, 2013 5:50pm]
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