Silence is golden when you're trying to help the homeless. That sad reality is illustrated by the clandestine funding for a mobile medical clinic to serve Pasco County's neediest residents. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, tucked $165,000 into the Legislature-approved state budget for Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger's office to hire a full-time nurse practitioner and driver for the medical van that is to visit homeless camps around the county.
The sleight of hand came to avoid the potential for a gubernatorial veto, the threat of which now is greatly diminished since the money is part of the public defender's base budget.
A thorough public debate about the need to help the less fortunate in Pasco would have been preferable, but Fasano's maneuvering is understandable given Gov. Rick Scott's past vindictiveness. Last year, Scott recalled $1.25 million — approved by the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 — to finance a health care clinic for the needy in northwest Pasco. The clinic's biggest advocate was Fasano, a frequent Scott critic, and it was to operate inside the Hudson hurricane shelter that bears the senator's name.
No wonder Fasano, unlike other legislators who trumpeted the hometown projects they included in the budget, kept quiet about this allocation until the legislative session ended. The senator's perseverance is commendable, though any excitement is tempered by the other caveats of the state budget. Legislators approved a spending plan that, among other things, failed to fully restore education funding, dumped disputed Medicaid costs on county governments, and told circuit court clerks statewide to cut $30 million.
In Pasco, the homeless advisory board plan called for the secondhand van, previously purchased from Pinellas County for $25,000, to use part-time help for twice weekly runs to places where the homeless congregate. The state money means full-time staff will make trips five days a week to the camps as well as to other sites where it can serve the uninsured.
The intent is to boost the physical health of the homeless by providing treatment for minor injuries and medical concerns before they balloon into more serious conditions requiring costly emergency rooms visits and hospitalizations. Pinellas County has used this strategy for more than two decades and the Pasco effort was culled together by Commissioner Pat Mulieri, Dillinger, the county's Community Development staff, nonprofits, and the state Health Department.
There is a lengthy patient list for the medical van to serve. An estimated 4,400 people are homeless on any given day in Pasco County. It's just unfortunate an elected lawmaker had to navigate a political vendetta surreptitiously in order to help them.