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Problem big, solution elusive

A year's study yields ideas but no firm proposal for serving the nation's sixth-highest county population of homeless.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 2, 2005

[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Rufus Miller, 39, contemplates spending his last $20 to pay rent while his son, Dawsen, 7, peers from their room at the Economy Inn Tuesday. Relying on day work, Miller makes just enough to live day to day.

TAMPA - For more than a year, a task force has been meeting regularly to try to find solutions to homelessness in Hillsborough County.

Members learned that the county has more than 11,000 homeless people, and nearly one-third of them have jobs.

They learned that one analysis ranked Hillsborough County's homeless problem as the sixth worst in America.

They learned that more than 1,700 children in Hillsborough County have no permanent place to sleep at night.

The Citizens Task Force on Homelessness disbanded Tuesday, concluding that fixing the problem will require money.

But it stopped short of deciding the best way to pay for such programs as mortgage assistance, construction of affordable homes and temporary shelters.

The group's 23-page report offers some suggestions for funding, such as dedicating a portion of property taxes to homeless services.

It also lists programs under way in other cities and states, but it doesn't recommend adopting any particular strategies here.

According to the report, Miami-Dade County has a 1 percent food and beverage tax and Broward County has a 1-cent gas tax to support homeless services. In San Diego, the Lennar Corp. deposits 1 percent of the sales price of a new home into a charitable foundation to help meet the needs of homeless people, and the state of Illinois recently passed legislation that places a $10 fee on documents filed during home sales to fund homeless services.

The 30-member task force - which included people from businesses, city and county governments and homeless advocates - turned its report over to the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, an agency that coordinates the county's homeless services.

The coalition will need to drum up support for any new funding sources, said Christine Burdick, executive director of the Tampa Downtown Partnership and co-chairwoman of the task force.

The taxes in Broward and Miami-Dade passed because business leaders and elected officials pushed for them, Burdick said.

"The case needs to be made," she said.

In October, USA Today published an analysis of statistics compiled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development showing that Hillsborough County's homeless population was the sixth highest in the nation.

"That's a very sobering fact," Burdick said.

Mayor Pam Iorio, who called for the creation of the task force, agreed with Burdick that it's too soon to aggressively pursue any funding mechanism.

"We need someone from the private sector to devote time, energy and fundraising to the issue," Iorio said. "We just have not had that."

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County's homeless problem remains.

Rufus and Mundi Miller live with their two children in a motel on Busch Boulevard. He works as a day laborer, and she cleans rooms at the motel to pay their bills.

They turned to the Homeless Education and Literacy Project, a Hillsborough County school district program, to help them keep their children in school. The program has assisted more than 500 homeless children since the beginning of the academic year with such necessities as registration, clothing and school supplies.

"We have people sleeping on the streets," said Kathy Wiggins, a school district social worker helping the Millers. "People don't realize how severe the problem is."

Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 2, 2005, 00:46:18]


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