On any given day, more than 4,000 people, including 1,400 children, have no place to call home in Pasco County. You might see some of them along the edge of State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel, sitting in the shade near a thrift store in Land O' Lakes, looking for a handout at the intersection of U.S. 19 and State Road 52 in Bayonet Point or at the Interstate 75 ramp near Darby. The kids are with grown-ups in parked cars, shelters or other temporary quarters.
The numbers do not include so-called doubled-up families who live with relatives or acquaintances, or the 250 inmates who have no place to go upon their release from the county jail.
Turning a blind eye toward those needing shelter isn't an acceptable answer and past initiatives to seek federal funding have drawn few nonprofit groups willing to apply.
That is about to change. More than 300 communities across the country, including eight in Florida, have devised 10-year plans to combat homelessness. Pasco County is poised to do likewise.
Sen. Mike Fasano recently culled together a task force, headed by Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober and Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina, that is charged with developing the plan as a precursor to obtaining federal grants for homeless projects. The real grunt work is being done by Eugene Williams of Pasco County's Community Development Division and the Rev. Dan Campbell, the newly installed president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County Inc.
At a time of shrinking government revenue, some might ask whether the community can afford a long-term commitment to helping the homeless, particularly with resources available in the urban areas to the south. More appropriately, can the community afford not to?
Doing nothing is simply too expensive, resulting in higher hospitalization and public safety costs to the public, and diminished educational opportunities for children resulting in long-term productivity losses. Multiple studies show the annual cost of feeding, incarcerating and providing health care to a chronically homeless person is tens of thousands of dollars higher than even the most comprehensive program to aid the homeless.
People who are homeless are unemployed or under-employed and nearly half abuse drugs or alcohol or have other mental health issues. It means potential solutions include more than a new shelter to serve as a stop-gap. A broad strategy requires social services, case management, employment opportunities, transportation, emergency shelter space, transitional housing and an affordable housing stock. It will require a commitment from public and nonprofit agencies, and the private sector.
The community plan is intended to provide long-range help for a problem that has been given short-shrift in the past. It is a welcome step and those involved should be commended for taking it.