The next year could mark a turning point for the struggling central Tampa neighborhood of Sulphur Springs. The head of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County is looking at a new anti-poverty campaign that targets single mothers. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants to redouble the city's efforts in remaking the area. These two leaders should work together and take advantage of this long-awaited window. There is plenty to do in Sulphur Springs, but the big challenge is taking the first step.
Sulphur Springs was once an oasis along the Hillsborough River. But the neighborhood, 5 miles north of downtown, has become an urban dumping ground, replete with decrepit homes and infrastructure, crime, vagrancy and an ugly and aging commercial corridor. The area is densely packed with old and unkept rental housing. Across entire blocks, half or more of the residents live below the poverty line, while most others struggle to make ends meet.
Kelley Parris, the director of the Children's Board, a tax-funded agency that finances a range of social services, said she will look at a new initiative to help at-risk families in the area. Though Parris has not decided on an approach, she is interested in strengthening the lives of single mothers in Sulphur Springs. The goal would be to enhance the chances for stability and upward mobility by addressing life skills, health and child care and other problems that many families face on a regular basis.
The Children's Board is suited to this task. It has a long history of working with needy families, and a project for single mothers would jell with other agency support services. The board also has an extensive list of private providers that could bring specialized assistance to the table. Its relationships with the Hillsborough County School Board, the state, the University of South Florida and other major players give it the contacts and profile to bring the necessary funds and expertise to bear on a new community campaign. And Parris has the personality and energy to give this effort staying power over what surely would be a long haul.
The city under Buckhorn has shown a new level of interest in Sulphur Springs — cleaning up trash and junk, installing extra streetlights, demolishing vacant homes and replacing them with affordable housing. Teaming with Parris would enable the city to make progress on the human front as it improves the face and economic climate of this central Tampa neighborhood. This is an opportunity for the mayor and a leading social services provider for the county to be creative and ambitious. Parris should bring a proposal forward and Buckhorn should craft a role for the city in taking the campaign to Sulphur Springs. Helping single parents become more self-sufficient is a step that begins addressing the larger societal challenges in this neighborhood.