Review board recommends family homeless shelter

The Pasco County Planning Commission has recommended approval of a program to temporarily house homeless families in a former Boys & Girls Club building.

Planning commissioners reached that recommendation during a public hearing on June 6.

The Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County wants to operate the temporary shelter on Youth Lane in Port Richey. The coalition also wants to open administrative offices in a second building, designated as the Housing Services Center. Individuals and families would be able to receive a range of social services at the center, with a primary focus on housing for the homeless population.

About 50 people attended a public hearing to oppose a program from the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County to operate a temporary shelter for families, and provide additional services at a Housing Services Center. (Kathy Steele)

The county owns the land, and has partnered with the coalition to get the program up and running.

About $700,000 in grants, and other funding sources, has been allocated for building renovations.

The Pasco County Commission is expected to make the final decision at a June 19 meeting in New Port Richey. Commissioners also will vote on an amendment to the county’s comprehensive land use plan to change the land use from open space/recreational to a public/semi-public use.

About 50 people attended the planning commission’s public hearing to show their opposition to the project. Most of the concerns, however, focused on the services available at the services center, not the temporary family shelter.

Area residents worried about increasing crime, a loss in property values, and overall public safety.

“The only good thing about this program is the good intentions,” said Suzanne Greene Taldone, who lives in the Crane’s Roost subdivision, off Little Road.

She thinks the coalition’s site will become a magnet for transients and will create “a cesspool of crime.”

Greene added: “Encampments flourish near these centers because they want to be first in line for services.”

The program was initially proposed in 2017 as a temporary shelter for adult men and women, with a focus on providing a one-stop center for social services and with a goal of placing people in permanent housing.

Amid strong opposition from residents, the coalition changed its purpose to instead help families only at the shelter. Coalition representatives also voluntarily limited the services that would be available at the Housing Services Center.

Under the proposal, the center would not have an emergency food pantry, clothes closet, showers, or scheduled visits for a mobile medical unit.

The coalition also agreed to other conditions.

Four to eight families would be housed temporarily, but no more than 36 people would stay at the shelter at any one time. The coalition estimates helping a minimum of 50 families annually.

Background checks would be done. There would be security cameras, and a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Also, coalition staff members would be on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Families could stay no longer than 180 days.

The goal, coalition officials said, would be for families to stay 30 days to 60 days, with most being placed in housing within 45 days.

“This is something that is very realistic,” said Don Anderson, chief executive officer of the homeless coalition.

Area residents remain skeptical.

Judith Bowes lives in the nearby subdivision of The Orchards of Radcliffe. She said more than 70 widows live there.

“They were scared. They had a lot of sleepless nights,” Bowes said. “The shelter that will house six to eight families is not the problem. The problem is (the Housing Services Center) will bring a lot of transients into the neighborhood. My neighbors are still having sleepless nights.”

But, Amina Ahmed said it made her sad to hear people making assumptions about people who are homeless.

“Not all of them are criminals,” Ahmed said. “People think if you’re homeless, you have to have a problem, which is not true. Let’s help people become valuable members of society.”

Attorney Robert Lincoln, who represents the owners of an adjacent shopping plaza, also spoke in favor of the coalition’s efforts.

The owners had found fault with the original plan but support the new direction, Lincoln said.

He said that eliminating such services as showers, medical care and clothes makes a difference.

“You take away those kinds of things, you take away the kinds of services that get people wandering in off the street,” Lincoln said.

Plus, he noted: “It’s much better to be working with (the coalition) and becoming engaged.”

Published June 13, 2018

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