TALLAHASSEE — Two Pinellas County lawmakers have filed bills to ensure more money to help homeless Floridians gets to local communities.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, announced the measures (SB 1090, HB 979) on Thursday at the Capitol.
The proposals would establish “challenge grants” to local homeless coalitions of up to $500,000 each, depending on population size and ability to match funds.
The funds granted would go toward permanent housing solutions and job training.
Latvala said the “wraparound” approach he and Peters favor also includes job placement assistance and mental health services.
“Just opening a center where people can come from 6 o’clock at night till 6 o’clock in the morning to hang out is a Band-Aid approach,” he said. “A more comprehensive approach is what we want to try to encourage here.”
Peters added: “And it’s a much more cost-effective approach than simply criminalizing the homeless for violating an ordinance as simple as loitering on a park bench.”
Florida has the third largest homeless population among the states, according to Florida’s Council on Homelessness.
In January 2013, local communities counted 45,364 people “living on the street, or in an emergency shelter,” the council’s latest report says.
That figure doesn’t include 13 of the state’s 67 counties, however, because of “lack of resources to do the count.”
In 2012, homeless counts collected by the council showed Hillsborough County had 7,300, Pasco had 4,500 and Pinellas had nearly 3,900.
“We can’t end homelessness, but a dedicated funding source for local homeless coalitions is absolutely critical for this effort,” said Susan Pourciau of the Florida Coalition for the Homeless.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the bills also would further efforts to get homeless people needed services, such as identification cards, drug and alcohol abuse treatment and veterans’ benefits.
“These are all critical things for municipalities to be able to do,” he said. “This will give us more tools to deal with the problem that we will not solve, but that we need to make a dent in, because we have a moral obligation to those folks.”
The bills, filed Tuesday, have yet to be referred to committees in their respective chambers, records show.
The annual legislative session kicks off March 4.
How to sound off
HB 979/SB 1090 would ensure more money to help homeless Floridians gets to local communities.
To find and contact your own senator or representative, visit www.leg.state.fl.us. You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.