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Guest Column

Funding is top challenge in battling homelessness

By LISA KANE DeVITTO
Published July 27, 2007


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If they had housing, they would not be homeless ...

While I strongly support community beautification, it breaks my heart to read that the state Department of Transportation spent $1.3-million on fountains under the new Ybor City I-4 overpasses, in part to keep from "attracting homeless" as detailed in a recent City Times story "With pond and eight fountains, land near I-4 won't go to waste," July 13.

Not too far from Ybor City, in downtown Tampa, some 20 to 40 people per night sleep on the steps of a local church. They are a small number of the estimated 8,500 homeless people in our county.

During the day, people with no place else to go may turn to our highway overpasses for protection from blistering sun, rain, wind and lightning. I am profoundly saddened that more than $1-million can be spent to "shoo away" people in need, as if we were talking about pigeons.

Large, shallow fountains do not solve the problem for our souls, our community appearance, or our economy. These tired people will simply go somewhere else in the public domain. They will still be here, and in need.

And the need is great.

Florida's overall state dollars for services and housing for the disabled are at a very low point, and the state is talking about reductions. Our state housing trust fund dollars are capped each year.

For people with disabilities, or in a health or financial crisis, there is frequently "no room at the inn." Florida ranks low in spending on mental health care - about 48th.

Unlike other states, Florida provides little housing assistance for people with special needs. Many people without services or housing assistance frequently wind up on our streets as homeless or in our jails, where the burden falls on the local taxpayer and care is the most expensive.

Hillsborough organizations and individuals work hard to reduce homelessness - Metropolitan Ministries, Salvation Army, Mental Health Inc., the Public Defender, Alpha House, DACCO, the School District, the city of Tampa and the county, to name a few.

They work separately and as part of the Hillsborough Coalition for the Homeless to form the local continuum of care. Funding is the major challenge. The State Homeless Housing Assistance Grant is only $750,000 per year; the Challenge Grant for homeless services is typically $150,000 per county, per grant.

There is a local plan to end homelessness, but important components, such as the intake, shelter and recuperative care center are not in any budget at present.

I know the DOT has its job to do and meant well for Ybor City. I hope in the future we can do a better job as stewards of our tax dollars and spend where it will alleviate human suffering, as well as promote health and economic well-being.

In perspective, $1-million could provide housing and case management for 50 people for a year, or build perhaps 10 units.

If you would like more information on this subject, I encourage you to contact the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County at (813) 223-6115 or visit www.homelessofhc.org.

Lisa Kane DeVitto is an attorney who lives near downtown Tampa. She serves on the board of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County and chairs the Florida Bar Public Interest Law Section. She is a past chair of the State Council on Homelessness, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush.

 

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Include your name, address and phone number for verification. Columns may be edited for length and clarity.

 

[Last modified July 26, 2007, 08:58:32]


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