Pasco working on plan to help the homeless with $4.46 million in pandemic relief funding

County officials are considering working with community partners to provide new housing.
At left, Donald Russell helps homeless man John Pettus fill out  a survey form during the homeless count in East pasco County. JAY CONNER/STAFF
At left, Donald Russell helps homeless man John Pettus fill out a survey form during the homeless count in East pasco County. JAY CONNER/STAFF [ JAY CONNER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published July 19, 2022

DADE CITY — Hardly a meeting goes by without some discussion by Pasco County commissioners about the vexing problem of homelessness, so it was no surprise when the board unanimously embraced seeking up to $4.46 million in federal grant money recently to find solutions.

They agreed to pitch a plan to provide housing for homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless. The money would come from a special $5 billion allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act that went directly to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for that specific purpose.

After meeting with nine local partners, ranging from the Homeless Coalition of Pasco County to the Salvation Army, county staff prepared a proposal that would focus on building new housing or converting existing facilities into living spaces. If Pasco’s plan is approved, the county would have until 2030 to complete the work, said Pasco community development director Marcy Esbjerg.

While that might seem a long way in the future, she noted that planning and building such projects routinely takes several years.

Pasco is one of 600 communities eligible for the money. Eighty-seven have already submitted a plan, and 37 of those plans have been approved.

“Keep your fingers crossed that this one will get approval,” Esbjerg said. She noted that the county worked on getting the portions of the application right that other communities did not.

A key part of that process was making sure the county gathered sufficient input on what real needs are in Pasco from the agencies with firsthand knowledge. The county also collected other public feedback.

The county set providing permanent housing for single adults as its first priority. Single adults make up 91% of Pasco County’s homeless population, though homeless families take up nearly 50% of the available beds, Esbjerg said. Social services, which could include counseling or job assistance for that population, would also be part of the program.

Commissioner Jack Mariano asked if some of the funds could help with the growing number of elderly residents who do not get assistance with meals. Though the financial struggles forcing them to choose other expenses over buying food could lead to homelessness, officials said the money was specifically designated for housing.

“The first priority is for those who are homeless, our biggest population and the least resourced,” Esbjerg said.

“This is for housing, and we need housing,” said Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey.

The county has sought proposals with community organizations to build the new housing and a half-dozen groups have responded. The proposals will be brought back to the commission for consideration in August.

Funding for housing is limited, Esbjerg said, and “this is a really good opportunity to bring a lot of units on-line.”