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Governor's approval will help homeless

A Clearwater facility comes up a winner in Bush's budget review, but some other county programs aren't so lucky.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


Every day, more than 3,000 homeless people walk the streets of Pinellas County.

Many of them find their way to the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Program shelter, also known as CHIP. The 48-bed shelter on Park Street has been full since it opened two years ago.

And it can keep serving those people, thanks in part to a $100,000 contribution from the state, a small part of the $50.9-billion budget approved Tuesday by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Supporters of the program had worried that their request would be labeled a "turkey" by Bush, who vetoed $313-million in projects last year after he decided they did not benefit the state as a whole.

Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein said he is relieved that CHIP survived this year's cuts.

"The only turkey in this deal is that which will go into the mouths of the homeless," Klein said. "It's a continual battle (for funding), and this will help."

The governor also supported other Pinellas County efforts, including a new library for the North Greenwood area of Clearwater, renovations to the Anclote Key lighthouse just west of Tarpon Springs and park upgrades in Oldsmar, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Largo and an unincorporated area near Tarpon Springs.

In addition, he checked off on a $3-million appropriation to help the city of Seminole and St. Petersburg Junior College build a joint-use library, scheduled to be completed in 2003.

The fate of a state program to bolster cities' efforts to retain their Major League spring training baseball teams was undecided. That measure is in a separate bill. The governor has until June 6 to render a decision.

Some local agencies felt the sting of rejection after the governor vetoed their requests. Bush refused to support a $350,000 request to expand community health centers in Clearwater, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg.

Tracy Payne, president of Community Health Centers of Pinellas, said his organization had been counting on the state money. The three clinics see about 50,000 patients a year, most of them uninsured, Payne said. The clinics need more space and updated equipment, he said.

"We're dead now. We may have to shut down some of our operations because of that," Payne said. "I'm not asking for the moon. I'd just like to upgrade things to the 20th century."

Bush also vetoed $426,000 that would have been used to finish building the new Largo Adult Day Services Center on 131st Street.

Fred Buchholtz, president and CEO of Neighborly Senior Services, said his organization will have to take out a mortgage or pursue more community donations to get the center built. He said the senior center's opening, scheduled for early fall, will not be delayed.

"It's just such a solid project. It boggles the mind how it was not approved," he said. "It's not like we're scratching our heads saying, "Gee, we never considered the possibility of this happening.' But we counted on the state seeing the essential nature of this program. I hope the community will see we've made this commitment . . . on behalf of the community."

The Clearwater Housing Authority, the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen, the Salvation Army and the Clearwater Police Department pool their resources to help those who enter the CHIP shelter, Klein said. Visitors get a place to stay, food, counseling and help finding jobs.

Its annual operating budget is about $350,000.

"Homelessness is an alarming, growing issue, not just in Pinellas County but in the state of Florida," Klein said. "On any given day, you'll find more than 50,000 people (in Florida) homeless, and in the country, I can't even keep up with it anymore.

"Our officers are finding more and more families living on the streets, in cars. CHIP is an effort to deal with the issue of homelessness."

-- Staff writers Wilma Norton and Deborah O'Neil contributed to this report.

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