How Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman responded to the Times' questions on homelessness

Published Jan. 3, 2014



PARTY: Republican



PHONE: (813) 272-5470

Question 1: Has the county done a good job of addressing homelessness since you've been on the board?

To answer only yes would be shortsighted, as the county has certainly faced challenges in addressing the homeless issue in the last year. Changes have been made with the Homeless Recovery Program to address tenant placements, and protocol has been developed to address identified deficiencies in the program. Our county homeless program has been moved to Affordable Housing and we are embarking on a new service model to use qualified homeless service providers in the community to provide housing and services to homeless clients. The county is committed to providing funding and services for the homeless.

However, to say no, we haven't done a good job, would negate the litany of good things we've done to address homelessness in Hillsborough County in the past three years.

We shouldn't dwell on past deficiencies; we should look to the future vision of the re-transformed Homeless Coalition that is now a public/private partnership which is working to address chronic homelessness at its roots.

Now serving as a member on the transitional board of the newly formed Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI) I am proud to say we have taken the lead in bringing the whole Tampa Bay community together, joining the private sector and community partners with the public sector to solve this issue.

One of the important projects our commission passed this year was the Housing First initiative in Hillsborough County. As a founding member of the Steps Forward group that opened Cypress Landing last year, which took 23 chronic homeless off the streets and provided them with wrap around services, I am 150% committed to solving homelessness in our community, but more work needs to be done.

My Catholic upbringing has been the foundation of my desire to help those in need. Though our efforts weren't perfect, they should count for some benefit to community to serve those less fortunate.

DISCLAIMER: Homeless issues are not a yes or no answer. These are unique and complex situations that require careful and thoughtful decisions.

Question 2: Should the county spend more money or commit more resources to getting people off the streets?

The County should commit more resources, and before we spend more money, we need to target the dollars we already have as effectively and efficiently as possible with homeless service providers. Currently we are implementing a Landlord Training Program. And to make sure we are addressing the problem of getting people off the streets, we have partnered with private non-profits like Starting Right, Now, that helps homeless youth find housing, education and training. We continue to look for partnerships where we can address the issue of homelessness, so that we can supplement valuable tax dollars, and parlay private dollars to do more, and to engage everyone in the fight to end homelessness.

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The resources need to produce outcomes like reduction in the chronic homeless population and use of technology to track clients and outcomes to make certain the tax dollars are effectively solving the homeless problem. The County Commission has maintained as a goal homeless service efforts in our strategic plan to make our county a great place to live and provide economic benefit to our residents – allocation of resources and reducing the numbers of homeless are goals we strive for.

Question 3: Should the county take the lead in bringing others in Hillsborough County, for example, the Tampa city council and the sheriff's office, together to hammer out a plan for tackling homelessness?

We have already taken the lead in bringing others together to address the issue when I brought together law enforcement, stakeholders and providers to create a Jail Diversion Program in Hillsborough County. This program helps take the most chronic homeless with mental illness off the streets, puts them into services, but also keeps them out of jail and emergency rooms. Partners in the planning of this program include the Sheriff's Office, the State Attorney's Office, Public Defender, Tampa Police Department, Chief Judge, Veteran's Affairs, mental health providers, and representatives from major hospitals.

The City, represented by the Mayor, is a great partner on the transformed Homeless Coalition, now THHI, and it is working with the County, private sector, and stakeholders to formulate a strategic implementation plan for ending homelessness in Hillsborough County. THHI is creating a vision to plan for innovative strategies to solve the problem including access to affordable housing, youth homelessness, employment, advocacy and more.

We want to create a safe, decent, and affordable home for everyone!