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Plan to fight homelessness wins support

After debating the issue for several minutes Tuesday night, city commissioners voted 5-2 to support a 10-year plan to combat homelessness throughout Pinellas County.

The plan, which focuses on preventing homelessness and creating permanent housing, was developed by the Homeless Planning and Policy Group of Pinellas County. The group includes advocates for the homeless, business and religious leaders and officials from governments throughout the county.

"We need to help them while we can help them and get them off the streets," said Commissioner Andy Guyette, who served on the policy group with Commissioner Pat Gerard.

Commissioner Mary Gray Black, who voted against the plan, said she supported the concept, but didn't want to commit before knowing the costs.

"If I'm going to approve and endorse that, I want to know where the money is coming from," Black said.

The plan's cost is not known, but a consultant for the policy group concluded that not doing anything could be more expensive in the long run.

The cost for Largo is also unclear, but a few commissioners said that the plan creates a unified force to deal with homelessness rather than committing specific monetary expenditures from the city.

"There are no commitments except that we address the coordination of a plan to address homelessness in the county," Mayor Bob Jackson said.

Other cities and the county are expected to consider the plan. St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park approved it.

The countywide plan outlines strategies to deal with chronically homeless people, who often have physical, mental and substance-abuse problems.

The plan also focuses on intervention for the working poor, job training and affordable housing, and it offers strategies for making sure people discharged from medical facilities and jails find housing. The plan also provides assistance to teens in foster care so they can learn to live independently.

On any given night there are more than 4,000 homeless people in the county, according to the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization that helped craft the plan. About 6 percent of the homeless were in Largo, according to an annual count last year by the coalition.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorri@spttmes.com.

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