Pasco County has been working to change the trajectory of homelessness — and two of the leaders in that effort recently updated the Pasco County Commission on the quest.
Marcy Esbjerg, director of community development for Pasco County and Don Anderson, CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County appeared jointly at the county board’s March 22 meeting.
They reported on progress and discussed ongoing challenges, offering suggestions for future action.
Esbjerg reminded commissioners that the board approved a coordinated investment plan in September of 2020 and she was there to report on what happened..
“We said we were going to house 225 people in 180 days,” she said.
“We wanted to take some that were unsheltered elderly; some that were unsheltered, but not elderly; unsheltered, chronically homeless; and, families.
“We were using about $4 million from the Emergency Solutions Grant,” she said.
The goal to house 225 people in 180 days didn’t happen, Esbjerg said. It took longer than 180 days, but ultimately, 254 households were housed, including a total of 368 individuals.
Other initiatives also have occurred.
For instance, 14 new, permanent supportive beds have been added, along with the county’s partner agency, St. Vincent DePaul, using a combination of funding sources.
“We had people that came strictly right off the street,” Esbjerg said.
“I met Joe, who for 20 years lived in the woods. He said to me, in a meeting we had recently, that it was the first time he thought that he would ever have a microwave and a refrigerator. And, no, he didn’t use his dishwasher yet because he only had one fork, one spoon and one bowl and he didn’t need to use the dishwasher,” the community development director said.
The county also opened a family shelter.
It operates out the former Boys & Girls Club on Youth Lane, which has been renovated.
It has nine separate rooms and a large common area, Anderson said.
“The primary objective here is get these families houses, as quickly as possible. We don’t want to warehouse them at the Family Shelter, rather, we want them to be housed as quickly as we can.
The combination of efforts is making a difference, Esbjerg said.
“This is the most movement, the most achievement, the most success that we have seen when it comes to homeless initiatives in probably over a decade, if not longer,” Esbjerg said.
The county’s homelessness initiatives are data-driven and based on best practices, Esbjerg said.
The efforts begin with an outreach team who identify the individuals and the families that are homeless, Anderson explained.
Help is prioritized by greatest need
“We evaluate them with a standard tool, and then they go to what is referred to as a ‘By-Name List,’” Anderson said.
“The individuals and families on that By-Name List have all been evaluated by the same tool, so they are ranked, in order of, who’s at the greatest risk of harm on the streets, in the woods,” he said.
“We triage, so we help the highest needs first,” Esbjerg added.
“We have a housing first philosophy, meaning we take people straight from the streets and the encampments and we put them into houses and into housing rather than this ladder approach, where they go into emergency shelter and then perhaps transitional housing and they have to earn their way through the various steps,” she added.
“Clients have a choice in their housing and also in their services,” Esbjerg added.
Pasco County is one of 400 or so Continuums of Care (COC) across the country, which compete for funding.
Esbjerg reported “the (Pasco) COC has doubled the amount of funding that they get from 2018, to now. From $800,000 to $1.7 million.”
Point-in-Time Counts are taken to determine the extent of homelessness.
“What’s important about these numbers is that these aren’t merely anecdotal,” Ebsjerg said.
“We drove down the street: What did we see? “We drove into a neighborhood: What did we see? “These are actual counted numbers,” she said.
In both the 2020 and 2021 Point-in-Time counts, there was a high percentage of single adults, Esbjerg said. In 2020, 76% were singles; and, in 2021, 82% were singles.
A gap analysis was done and it determined there was a gap between how services are being directed and where they are needed, she said.
As it turns out, more resources are needed to address individual homelessness, Esbjerg said.
More resources also are needed to address the increasing issue of domestic violence, which is leading more people to enter the system, she added.
The county has received a $300,000 grant for domestic violence programs, she said.
The county also intends to use American Rescue Plan funding to increase the supply of affordable housing.
Esbjerg said the county also is trying to purchase a hotel, motel or multifamily housing to help address homelessness.
It had identified one, but lost out on that one to a private developer, she said.
Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey asked why the county couldn’t build one.
Esbjerg said it could, but it would take longer.
County Administrator Dan Biles said besides taking longer, the county couldn’t build it as cheaply as a private developer could.
Anderson said he’d like the county consider building a family shelter on the east side of Pasco.
“It’s very difficult for a family, if they are on the east side, while they are homeless, many times they have tentacles into the community —maybe job, children going to a particular school — it’s really a hardship to expect them to come to this (west) side of the county,” Anderson said.
Published April 06, 2022
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