The painful story of Tampa's Hartzell family puts names and faces to the challenges communities throughout Tampa Bay face in addressing homelessness. The family has lived out of its car for much of the past year, despite commendable efforts by government and private charities to get the family jobs and into a safe, stable home. Their story is a reminder that Hillsborough County, like other major urban areas, has to strengthen the safety net. But it also illustrates the difficulties public and private efforts encounter in trying to reduce homelessness and the importance of intervention that helps change behavior and reinforces personal responsibility.
The family's story, recounted recently by the Tampa Bay Times' Anna M. Phillips, reflects the unforgiving nature of homelessness and the cycle of despair that can impact generations. As Phillips reports, the family has lost jobs and housing over the last year, even as Hillsborough County officials and charities have taken up their cause. Now Danny Hartzell, his wife, Ronale, and the couple's two teenage children live in an aging Chevy Cavalier, which they park outside big-box stores in South Tampa. It's not a healthy life or much of a start for the teens, one an adult and another who is not far behind. It's also not healthy for communities to have families living in cars in parking lots.
The family gained notoriety after being featured in a book on the housing crisis by New Yorker writer George Packer. Packer steered some donations their way, and he pulled strings with a private company to get Danny Hartzell a job. But an injury put Danny out of work, and Ronale, who has hypertension, told the county her medical conditions prevent her from working. The family's failing finances put them in regular need of assistance.
Eric Larson, an aide to County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, took an interest in their case and got the Hartzells into a housing program at a major local charity, Metropolitan Ministries. But the parents refused, saying the rules and campus living environment was patronizing and controlling. One interviewer determined the Hartzells had become "agency-dependent" and defensive. After spending $6,800 to house the family, the county had enough. As Larson aptly said: "There's a limit on what government can do."
Hillsborough County has made some early strides in reforming its troubled homeless assistance program by farming out the job to private providers who bring experience and wraparound social services to those in need. But Hillsborough doesn't have the capacity to meet the demand for housing once individuals and families cycle out of emergency shelter. That creates a revolving door when what the county needs is transitional housing and support to act as a bridge for people to self-sufficiency.
As the Hartzells' case shows, though, the best plans and the most committed caseworkers still face the difficulty of working with a complex target audience that may or may not cooperate. The county needs more beds, but the homeless must be motivated too. What awaits the Hartzell children — an 18-year-old son who dropped out of Robinson High School and a 14-year-old daughter who last remembers being in school in February? There has to be something better than a life wasted on the streets.
Florida sees surge in no-party voters | July 6
No party, no real voice
Of the approximately 500,000 newly registered voters since 2010, an astoundingly high percentage have registered as no party affiliation.
Some have applauded the growth of no-party voters as a sign of voter independence and sophistication. Others say it points to voter disgust with the partisan bickering that has led to government gridlock. It may be both, but it is also a sign that voters are diluting the power of their voice, which is the power of their vote.
In Florida, who our legislative and congressional representatives will be is something that is too frequently settled on the day of the filing deadline or in a party primary. This is because political parties too often do not contest incumbent legislative or congressional seats or do not field experienced, attractive and well-funded candidates. In many cases, this is because the lines have been drawn to make it so that districts are not contestable.
Except in cases in which the winner of a primary will have no opposition in the general election — in which case the primary will be open to all voters — those who register with no party affiliation are barred from participating in a political party's primary. So it needs to be understood that the decision to register as a no-party voter comes with the price of surrendering much of the power of your vote: the right to vote in a primary, which in Florida is often the real election.
Howard Simon, executive director, ACLU of Florida, Miami
The costs of cruising | July 9
Smaller ships, big margins
Wednesday's Times included an article on a new, 50-room boutique hotel in St. Pete Beach that will attract an upscale clientele and, on the front page, one on the problem of the new breed of large cruise ships that will not fit under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Possibly the answer to the problem of getting ships under the bridge is to develop a plan that attracts those who prefer smaller, luxurious ships that glide easily beneath the beautiful Skyway. Several very successful European cruise lines sell out their 150-passenger luxury ships regularly. Maybe it is time to look at smaller options rather than those that include options to tear down the Sunshine Skyway.
Joe Parnell, Land O' Lakes
Pasco may keep valedictorian awards July 8
It should come as no surprise that this criticism of Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning comes from Fox and Friends. I'm sure that none of his reasoning for the change was discussed and that only outrage and vitriol were spewed, which is what that audience wants.
I'm pretty sure those commenting were not considered for valedictory honors themselves but merely were taking advantage of a chance to call Browning a left-wing liberal for thinking outside the tea party box, even though he is the rare Republican who looks at what might be right even though it may be ideologically impure.
David Sullivan, Palmetto
Religious groups ask to bypass gay shield July 9
Beliefs as discrimination
The chief executive of Catholic Charities USA is quoted as asking for an exemption based on their religious beliefs. These beliefs also include a prohibition on the use of birth control and divorce. In order to be consistent, should they not also request an exemption on hiring individuals who practice either?
If a organization or business can deny employment based on their religious beliefs (hiring gays or lesbians), in order to be consistent should they not also deny employment to individuals who do not practice all of their religious beliefs? On what basis do they determine some sins — birth control, having had a divorce for reasons other than adultery, shopping or working on the sabbath — are acceptable for employment, but others are not?
There is a long history of religious groups using their interpretation of the Bible to discriminate: Christians against Jews, Protestant against Catholics, justifying slavery, denying women equal rights, etc. Are we now to see such discrimination given the sanction of law? If someone does not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, or in papal infallibility, should that give you the right to deny them employment?
E.C. Cerveny, St. Petersburg
Law requires followup, funding July 9, letter
Proven plans need funding
As a mental health professional and advocate working on the front lines for over nine years, I agree with the sentiments expressed by the letter writer. However, the reality is that Florida is ranked 49th in funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, even though we have the fourth-largest population in the country.
The largest-ever state budget was just approved for this fiscal year, but there was limited additional funding appropriated for these essential services. If you desire that the situations improve for the children, you have to provide comprehensive services for the adults in their lives to create the healthy homes. Our legislators continually refuse to adequately fund these types of services, even though there are several model programs, utilizing evidenced-based practices, that have produced remarkable results.
As we approach another legislative session in 2015, I hope readers will assist and petition their legislators to finally provide the adequate funding that we desperately need to do our jobs.
Joan M. Andrade, Pinellas Park
Florida sees surge in no-party voters | July 6
Centrist party would be a winner
I think it is time for this country to have a third major political party; one idea would be to call it the Moderate Party. I was a Democrat for most of my life, but when the party started catering to far-left liberals I switched to the Republicans. It was not long before they started catering to the far right, so I became an independent.
Based on the numbers in this article, it appears that if a Moderate Party picked up those no-party votes, and grabbed many of the moderates from both the Democratic and Republican parties, it would be more than enough win any election. We need a moderate politician who is brave enough to give it a try.
Willard Ottman, Apollo Beach