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Clearwater's plans for homeless won't fix root problems

Re: 'Action steps' for homeless | story, April 8

Plan won't fix root problems

A more apt title for the article would have been "Marching Orders for Homeless." According to the writer, although the task the city leaders have given the consultant is to find "action steps to deal with increases in downtown Clearwater's homeless population," their actual goal is to get the homeless out of Clearwater.

Apparently, the efforts to spruce up Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, Court Street and other main thoroughfares prior to the Republican National Convention extends beyond planting in the medians and intersection improvements, to getting rid of all the eyesores — including people.

The plan, it would appear, is to round up these perceived blights on the city's image and put them in some central location out of sight of the general populace — a place similar to consultant Robert Marbut's brainchild, Haven for Hope in San Antonio.

On the surface, it sounds like a perfect plan. Aggregation and sequestration of such persons not only removes "undesirables" from public view, it gives everyone involved a warm fuzzy feeling because once consolidated, the needs of these outcasts can be attended to efficiently, economically and en masse.

But this plan is not a solution. It is only a self-perpetuating drain on public money.

Safe Harbor, Haven for Hope and similar "warehouse" projects certainly have their good points, but they all share one glaring negative: They fail to address the root cause of homelessness. And by failing in that critical area, they ensure their own continuing operation and the ongoing fallacy that we are actually "doing something" about the homeless "problem."

There is a real answer, and it does not involve spending thousands of dollars on consultants from out of state. Twelve years ago, the National Council to End Homelessness rolled out a framework that addresses the entirety of the issue, and so far more than 380 city, county and regional plans have been developed using this structure. There are just four basic steps, and while the implementation takes some doing, the results are spectacular.

1. Stop people from becoming homeless.

The leading cause of homelessness is poverty or loss of income. Communities need to implement and improve existing programs that prevent job loss and help the unemployed find work, like those that train or re-train people to do work that is relevant to the current environment.

2. Understand who needs help.

Get to know the poor and homeless in your community and understand what each one needs. Not everyone is homeless for the same reason, or needs the same services. Recovery plans designed to fit individuals are a must.

3. Put people in homes or allow them to stay in homes.

Availability of affordable housing is essential. The State of Homelessness in America 2012 Report found that there was not a single county in the entire nation where a family of four earning $9,400 (which is the average income level of the working poor) could afford fair market rent for a one-bedroom unit. Programs that help people overcome the hurdle of first and last month's rent plus security deposit, and programs that assist families in danger of losing their home due to job loss, are key.

4. Continue to improve and expand services that address the first three items.

This last point is where Clearwater gets a big fat "F." The STARS job training program was spun off into a nonprofit, which now much compete for funding with other 501(c)(3)s. The Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project was closed because funding was left up to the whim of whatever administration was in power. Other programs have fallen by the wayside or had funding cut. If city leaders are serious about fixing homelessness, not just sweeping its victims under the rug, they need to consider adding or reviving programs that address the issues described above.

The above is my personal opinion as a private citizen, and does not represent the policy or official position of any organization I am associated with.

Kris DiGiovanni, Madeira Beach

Where is FHP when you need it?

I was sitting at the counter of the Garden Grill restaurant located at Highlands Boulevard in Palm Harbor during lunch when an elderly man in a large car attempted to park at a handicap space directly in front of the entrance.

The driver was confused between the gas and the brake and lost control of his car. He sideswiped a parked car and drove up onto the sidewalk and nearly through the glass window.

I immediately ran outside and witnessed him trying to back up. Then he lurched forward again several times and then backward. I reached into his car and put it in park as he was telling me that he was confused and didn't know what was happening.

He eventually backed out of the space and drove around and around in the parking lot while I called 911.

After I reached the 911 operator and explained the situation, my call was routed to the Florida Highway Patrol. The phone rang for 30 times and never got answered.

Then I called back again.

Finally, an FHP operator answered and took the information and said that they would send someone. I explained that I was very concerned that the elderly person who was confused would drive out onto U.S. 19 and hurt someone.

After 15 minutes, no one showed up from the FHP. So the person whose car was sideswiped called the FHP again. The operator was quite rude and said that they didn't have anyone available. So, he then called the sheriff, who did show up.

In my opinion, something is very wrong with the Florida Highway Patrol and the response that we got. It seems that our calls to 911 should never be directed to the FHP. What a disgrace! This is what I pay my taxes for?

C. Hoffman, Palm Harbor

Recycling helps our communities

I am a student at St. Petersburg College. I have been working in the business of hospitality in the past year and I've been shocked by the amount of waste material that is not recycled. Anything from paper, glass and plastic waste is just being carelessly thrown into the garbage and forgotten about.

This happens not only in many restaurants but also in our homes. Our yellow recycling bins in Clearwater are very limited as to what can be recycled or not.

I believe that if citizens of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties were presented with collection of a wide variety of recycling items at their homes, we could achieve a much cleaner environment.

Not only would this keep our planet cleaner, but it would help the citizens of Pinellas and Hillsborough learn a mindset of saving and appreciating our resources.

Jimmy Abbiati, Clearwater

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Clearwater's plans for homeless won't fix root problems 04/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 28, 2012 1:30pm]
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