Neighbors object, but family housing OK’d

The Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County can move forward with plans to temporarily house homeless families in a building at the former campus of the Boys & Girls Club in Port Richey.

The coalition, with support from other social service agencies, also will open the Housing Services Center, which will administratively help families and individuals seeking permanent housing and other services.

A former Boys & Girls Club on Youth Lane in Port Richey will be renovated and opened as a temporary shelter for homeless families, and administrative offices for the Housing Services Center.

The Pasco County Commission, with Commissioner Jack Mariano dissenting, approved the coalition’s plan at its June 19 meeting in New Port Richey.

Commissioners also approved a 15-year lease agreement for $1 a year; and, a $190,000 contract to design renovations of two buildings at 8239 Youth Lane.

During the public hearing, many area residents who live near the site gave county commissioners the same unified message they’ve delivered before: They don’t want the coalition in their neighborhood, and they are voters.

Residents say they worry about crime, loss of property values, and safety.

“We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be listened to. We live and sleep here,” said Suzanne Greene Taldone, a resident in nearby Crane’s Roost. “You keep trying to put a square peg into a round hole.”

Supporters, including most county commissioners, say it’s overdue for Pasco to step up efforts to help the homeless population.

Data from the coalition puts the number of homeless people in Pasco County at about 2,500. Homeless families make up about 1,800 of those people and there are about 700 single adults.

Mary Ashcraft is pastor at Joining Hands Mission Church and opens the church to the homeless in cold weather. She supports the coalition’s project.

“There’s so many families out there,” she said. “I get phone calls, and I have nowhere to send them but Metropolitan Ministries. They go a great job, but they are full and packed.”

The county owns the land on Youth Lane and is providing at least $700,000 in grants, and other sources, to pay for building renovations.

“I think we’re going to do the right thing,” said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. “Sometimes, we just have to take a chance.”

The lease agreement has a 90-day written notice of termination clause.

Starkey said, “If it doesn’t go right, we’ll do something about it.”

Crane’s Roost resident Valerie Schaefer said the coalition’s programs would be like a magnet — attracting more homeless people and transients into the neighborhood.

“We taxpayers and voters will hold you commissioners responsible if you vote this through,” she said.

Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano

Mariano shared concerns that the Housing Services Center could have people loitering in the area. He also thought spending available grants on Habitat for Humanity houses would be a better option.

“The issue is something we’re all sensitive to. It’s only primarily about location to the neighbors,” Mariano said. “I still don’t think it’s the right project.”

The programs approved by county commissioners were a change from the initial project to open a one-stop navigation center, with wrap-around services and a shelter for adult men and women.

Most supporters liked the shift in direction to help homeless families; while others still favored the original navigation center concept.

Under the amended proposal, the center will house four to eight families in the former teen center that’s on the site. They can receive services for up to 180 days, though coalition representatives say they expect most will be there about 45 days before transitioning to permanent housing.

No more than 36 people can stay there at any one time.

There also will be background checks, curfews, security cameras, and staff members onsite at the family shelter 24 hours a day.

Plus, the coalition will limit services available at the Housing Services Center, which will operate Monday through Friday office hours.

There will be no showers, emergency food or clothing, or health care services.

Those conditions convinced owners of an adjacent shopping plaza to support the coalition.

“This is not going to bring people out of the camps,” said Robert Lincoln, an attorney representing the plaza owners. “There’s not giveaways. It’s not going to be the anchor for bringing those people into the area.”

Chase Daniels, assistant executive director for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, also voiced Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco’s continued support for the program.

The coalition will provide desk space for deputies working in the area. They can stop by and fill out their paperwork, Daniels said. “They will have a presence,” he added.

Published June 27, 2018

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