Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Editorial: Breaking the cycle of homelessness

Hillsborough County's system for serving the homeless has failed the needy and taxpayers alike, so it makes sense to consider whether private nonprofits could do a better job. But finding a better way forward cannot be a ruse by the county to wash its hands of the problem. The county alone is legally responsible for serving this population. And any solution must include more than temporary housing if the county hopes to break the cycle of homelessness.

Hillsborough's housing program is in shambles. In a series of reports, the Tampa Bay Times has chronicled how the county has used taxpayer money to house low-income residents in squalid, crime-ridden properties. Officials estimated last month that about 200 people receiving publicly subsidized housing aid were living in unfit conditions. Emergency inspections revealed that dozens of units failed even basic housing codes, and some landlords have decided to leave the program rather than bring their properties into compliance.

County commissioners are exploring whether to hand the job off to the private sector. That could offer several benefits. Area nonprofits such as Metropolitan Ministries have established track records in serving the homeless. Their history and reputation in the community enable them to attract private fundraising that could stretch the existing public housing budget. The nonprofits' narrower mission might ensure that the housing program does not get lost in a larger bureaucracy. The risk is a private sector program could be less transparent and accountable.

County commissioners also need to acknowledge that any solution involves finding the right people. Hillsborough's program failed not because it was county-run but because the operation was ignored. Going forward, the housing program must require that all units pass county health and safety codes. Conflict-of-interest rules must keep family, business partners and favored landlords from using their ties to win public business. And if the nonprofits take over, the county still needs strong oversight to enforce compliance with the county contracts.

Commissioners also need to be clear about the scope of the problem they are addressing. The challenge is not merely to expand the mission of the nonprofits, but to improve Hillsborough's safety net to provide the homeless with a bridge to self-sufficiency. That requires a stronger housing program, but also wraparound services such as mental health, job assistance and life-skills training. The county will need to elevate its sights and follow through with plans for both temporary shelter and more permanent affordable housing.


Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

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Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18