A nearly two-year effort to write a 10-year plan to combat homelessness in Pasco County is finally finished and county commissioners should accept its findings and consider the suggestion to establish a new homeless advisory board to guide the ambitious recommendations.
Those are the simple tasks. The heavy lifting remains ahead, including identifying the local and private contributions to turn the plan from words on paper to work in progress.
Much of the expense is expected to come from state and federal sources to add emergency shelters, transitional beds and so-called permanent supportive housing, and to maintain an affordable housing stock. Advocates want to develop three assistance centers to provide counseling, education, life-skills training and other resources to increase self-sufficiency. It aims to bolster employment opportunities and push prevention via help with rental and utility payments, transportation and other assistance.
Currently, nearly two dozen agencies provide services to the homeless population in Pasco County and the plan seeks to better coordinate the efforts of those lending a hand. Essentially, this plans calls for a holistic approach to try to curb homelessness before it begins, rather than just managing the existing problems. It's a significant undertaking, but not one that reinvents the wheel. To qualify for federal aid, local governments have authored 355 such plans nationally.
The chronic homeless in Pasco are estimated at 617 people who've been on the streets for a least a year or have been homeless four times in a 36-month period. Other locales have calculated that assisting those people can result in a $2,400 savings per individual annually, or $1.4 million in Pasco's case, in reduced incarceration, health care and other costs born by the public.
Too often, that is the only public image of homelessness — the stereotypical panhandler who stands on the road median during the day and sleeps in the woods at night. In Pasco, the need is more far-reaching. A 2009 count found more than 4,500 people homeless on any given day and that figure failed to account for most of the 2,395 children identified by the Pasco County School District. It's why a plan component is to educate the public on homelessness and the benefits of investing in a solution.
Much of the county's homeless population is based in urbanized west Pasco, but it is not a problem exclusive to the unincorporated areas of the county. There are multiple homeless camps within the municipal boundaries of Port Richey, and Zephyrhills police reported at least a dozen calls each week from people needing shelter, with the volume of calls increasing because of the economy. It means a buy-in from all local governments is key.
The plan correctly notes it is both compassionate and economically prudent to try to end homelessness. More to the point: Hand-wringing or hoping somebody else will do it for us is no longer an acceptable alternative.