When it comes to community service and advocacy, more can always be done in Pasco County.
That was the general message put forth by Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells, at a Nov. 12 East Pasco Networking Group breakfast meeting at IHOP in Dade City.
There’s all sorts of resources for seniors, veterans and children and families, Wells said. But, he is advocating greater collaboration between the county, nonprofits and outreach groups — such as Meals on Wheels East Pasco, United Way of Pasco County and The Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County.
“We’re doing so many great things in the county, but everybody’s got their own dang silos and it’s almost like, ‘This is mine, I don’t want you to know what I’m doing,’” said Wells, a Republican who represents District 4. His district stretches from West Pasco to State Road 52 and State Road 54 toward U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes.
He added that deep-rooted community divide remains between the county’s east and west sides, which, he said, creates obstacles in getting tasks done.
He put it like this: “It’s always kind of been east versus west. I always thought it was political, but it’s a lot more political than I thought.”
Much of Wells’ talk focused on the county’s homeless situation and the need for workforce training.
With the county’s homeless population numbered as high as 3,000, Wells said it’s important “to help those that want to be helped.”
He acknowledged that he’s still “catching heat” from residents who opposed his support of building a family homeless shelter and resource center, in partnership with The Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County, on the site of the former Boys and Girls Club on Youth Lane in Port Richey.
But, Wells went to bat for the homeless: “These homeless people are like you and I. They’re regular people. You just have to take an opportunity to get to know them and get to know these folks.”
He argued such a facility and other outreach programs isn’t just enabling area homeless.
“Supposedly, that’s a Democrat thing, to help the homeless. No, it’s a humanitarian, kind thing. At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do,” Wells said.
On a related note, Wells believes the forthcoming $128 million expansion of the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center could go a long way toward helping the county’s homeless population get back on its feet.
Within the 1,000-bed addition and upgrades to all of the jail’s central services will be a new wing designed to directly address mental illness and addiction, which Wells said is often tied into homelessness. The expansion project is expected to undergo construction in 2021, with completion in fiscal year 2023.
Said Wells: “We’re going to be able to do more at the jail to stop that revolving door, because that’s what it is now. They come in the jail, (staff) don’t really do much for them for mental illness or addiction, they leave and come back, they leave and come back. …It’s going to be nice a couple years from now to say, ‘Wow, look what we can do here.’”
Also tied into the rehabilitation piece is helping homeless and ex-convicts get back to work, Wells said.
This year the county allocated $700,000 to CareerSource Pasco Hernando’ Workforce Re-entry Program, he said. That program connects unemployed and underemployed people with jobs and training they needed to fill any skill gaps. The county initially allocated $350,000 in Penny for Pasco funds for the project last year.
About 50 people went through the program with last year’s funding, Wells said.
He shared the success story of a masters-educated man who was homeless this time last year and is now making $45 per hour with Pall Aeropower Corporation in New Port Richey.
“He fell on tough times, and we were able to help him,” Wells said.
The commissioner also noted the county now hires ex-felons for certain positions — something it didn’t do before he was first elected in 2014.
Many of those hires now are “kicking butt with the county, getting promoted,” he said.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Wells said. “We all make mistakes, and everybody deserves a second chance.”
Though he spoke at the networking meeting as a member of the Pasco County Commission, Wells has announced that he is pursuing a different role. He is running for Pasco County Property Appraiser in 2020.
Published November 20, 2019