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Homeless advocates fight cuts

Concerned by a House budget that would trim $4.5-million in grants for the homeless, Pasco groups join the battle.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003


Call it the $4.5-million fight.

Advocates for the homeless are drumming up opposition to the proposed state budget from the House of Representatives, which would cut $4.5-million in state grants for groups helping the homeless.

If approved, the state's spending on homelessness would drop 38 percent at a time when the shelters are swelling with people in need, said Jeff Tomeo, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County.

"They would be affecting thousands of people on the low end of the scale," Tomeo said Thursday.

"Those who are homeless would be taking it on the chin."

The cuts appear in the proposed House budget, but not in the budgets offered by Gov. Jeb Bush or the state Senate. Ultimately the two chambers will have to agree on a budget, then offer it to Bush, who has line item veto power.

The proposed cuts in the House would eliminate about $3.8-million in Challenge Grants that help communities improve their facilities and services for the homeless.

Pasco County received $250,000 from that grant program last year, Tomeo said. The money was divided among Bay Area Legal Services, the Sunrise and Salvation Army domestic violence shelters, and the World Relief program that aids refugees settling here, he said.

The House budget also would eliminate a $625,000 pot of money that helps homeless coalitions throughout the state cover their office and personnel expenses. Tomeo said the coalition in Pasco County received about $29,000 from that fund last year.

The coalitions pull together representatives from dozens of groups that help the homeless, often serving as the lead agency in applying for state and federal grants. Cutting their financial support would be like "defunding the superintendent of a school district," said Steve Werthman, president of the Florida Coalition for the Homeless.

"Local homeless coalitions are the glue that hold the community's response to homelessness together," Werthman said in a prepared statement.

Rep. Bruce Kyle, R-Fort Myers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee that put the proposed budget together, did not return a call Thursday for comment.

The state Department of Children and Families estimates about 67,600 people are homeless in Florida on any given night. Almost 3,000 of those people are in Pasco County, Tomeo said.

Tomeo and other members of the homeless coalition are lobbying legislators, with the hope of keeping their dollars in the final budget.

It's a fight many nonprofits have had to wage this year -- particularly as lawmakers look to reduce class sizes and pay for a high-speed rail system, as required by voters, while trying to cut taxes.

"With these other big ticket, voter-mandated things they have to deal with, we fear the nonmandated things are going to fall off the scope," Tomeo said.

-- Bridget Hall Grumet covers social services in Pasco County. She can be reached at 352-521-5757 ext. 23 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 23. Her e-mail address is bhall@sptimes.com .

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