Residents packed a town hall meeting in the West Pasco Government Center this week to express concern that the county hasn’t done enough to address the growing homeless population.
The discussion mirrored one several weeks ago at a meeting of the Pasco County Commission and the city councils of Port Richey and New Port Richey. That session ended with agreement to explore building a village of shipping container-style homes in west Pasco, where about 80 percent of the county’s homeless population lives in camps in the woods and on vacant property.
While residents who gathered this week said they wanted solutions for addressing homelessness, they said they do not want to see a homeless village in their neighborhood. Some came to the meeting fearful about social media rumors that a location has already been chosen.
County officials told those gathered that they haven’t picked a site. But they didn’t mention that one is being studied.
County commissioners on Tuesday approved hiring Coastal Design Group to perform a feasibility study for what is being called Pasco Hope Project. “Hope” is the name used in both Pinellas and Tampa for villages of tents, containers and other housing alternatives they have established for homeless people.
The county is paying $6,750 for Coastal to do “a desktop evaluation to determine the feasibility of providing a temporary housing facility at the Mile Stretch Drive Site” in the southwest Pasco community of Holiday. When asked for further clarification of that site, Pasco spokesperson Sarah Andeara said “the area being studied covers the northern portions of four parcels along Mile Stretch.”
The two on the western side are both Pasco County-owned properties. The third is owned by the U.S. Postal Service and the fourth is owned by the First Baptist Church of Holiday.
St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church owns property immediately to the east. While it is not included in the study area, Catholic Charities has been involved in numerous other homeless assistance programs with Pasco County as well as the Pinellas Tampa Hope projects.
“The intent of this study by Coastal Design is to conduct a preliminary feasibility study to understand the overall constraints and conditions (e.g. stormwater, environmental, etc.) for the site. By conducting a feasibility study, the county can begin to understand what, if any, potential exists for the site; as it evaluates options to assist the community,” Pasco County Facilities Director Andrew Baxter said in an email.
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While the site might be under study, county officials at the town hall meeting said there is interest in finding several sites to provide container dwellings. County Commissioner Jack Mariano said he liked that idea and suggested that another possible place to look is at the Holy Ground shelter in Hudson.
Michael Raposa, chief executive officer with St. Vincent de Paul Charities, said he isn’t a fan of the container cities. His group has helped hundreds of Pasco homeless find places to stay. Funds from pandemic relief allowed them to house homeless people in hotels and motels until low-income housing was available.
He told Pasco officials that the county needs to build up that inventory of low income housing and other services.
“The sheriff cannot arrest his way out of this. Your code enforcement can’t code its way out,” Raposa said. “Intervention works. It does.”