New center could help Pasco’s homeless

Pasco County wants to open the county’s first homeless shelter as part of a comprehensive plan to help an estimated 3,300 homeless people.

There are about 100 camps across Pasco County where people live, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

The chosen location for what is proposed as a “one-stop navigation center” is in two county-owned buildings in west Pasco, formerly leased to the Boys & Girls Club.

Pasco County Emergency Services Director Kevin Guthrie spoke to a large crowd on June 14 in New Port Richey. The county had a public meeting to talk about a navigation center to help homeless individuals with housing, health care and jobs. (Kathy Steele)

The Pasco County Commission was set to vote on June 20 (after The Laker/Lutz News deadline) on two federal grants that would be used to rehabilitate buildings.

The goal is to open the navigation center in 2018.

Pasco County and the Homeless Coalition of Pasco had public meetings on June 7 and on June 14 in New Port Richey to explain the navigation center and get public input.

While most support the homeless shelter in concept, nearby neighbors in Crane’s Roost and representatives of a nearby mall object to the proposed location at 8239 Youth Lane, off Little Road in New Port Richey.

They worry about increased solicitation, crime and lowered property values.

Studies have shown the opposite, including decreases in crime, said Raine Johns, chief executive officer of the Homeless Coalition of Pasco.

“You’ll find this decreases dramatically,” she said.

However, a representative of Ridge Plaza, anchored by Hobby Lobby and a Walmart Neighborhood Market, said tenants have expressed concerns about impacts to their businesses. He also said no one had reached out to mall representatives to discuss the navigation center.

“It certainly merits that we get together,” he said.

Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano was the only commissioner to vote against the navigation center in November. He proposed putting the center in the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter in Hudson.

He said the program could be operated cheaper, safer and quicker if the shelter were used.

Others said the hurricane shelter was in the “middle of nowhere,” with no bus service and few job opportunities.

“The last thing we want to do is institutionalize the homeless population,” said Johns.

The navigation center is modeled after one in San Francisco. It would be a one-stop shelter that would work to place people into housing. They also would receive help in finding jobs, job training and health care, and receive personalized case management.

The efforts would focus on one camp at a time, with as many as 75 single adult men and women housed an average of 90 days at the navigation center.

“Housing first. That’s the end goal,” said Cathy Pearson, assistant county administrator for public services. “A lot of partners are coming together. We believe in this.”

The count done by the sheriff’s office found homeless camps in all areas of the county, including west Pasco, Zephyrhills, Land O’ Lakes and Dade City.

“This is a serious topic. We know that,” said Pasco County Sheriff’s Capt. James Steffens. “We’re trying to do something other than put handcuffs on people and take them to jail.”

The sheriff’s office is one of the partners for the navigation center. Others include the United Way of Pasco, the Pasco County Housing Authority, and the Public Defender’s Office of the Sixth Judicial Circuit.

United Way will contribute about $100,000. About 50 housing vouchers will be dedicated to the navigation center. And, the public defender’s office plans to send its mobile medical unit to the center.

Pasco also plans to contribute about $50,000 for a program that would hire some of the homeless individuals for county labor. The goal is to help them learn skills and establish a work history.

The County Commission is expected to be asked in September to transfer the navigation center property to the homeless coalition.

As a nonprofit, the coalition has more access to additional grants.

Published June 21, 2017

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