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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Letter of the Day

Tents no answer to homeless issue

Published:

I read with both interest and dismay the recent "Our View" regarding the homeless issue. It is inane to think putting chronically homeless human beings in tents without services and programs will solve anything. Quite the contrary, it attracts a class of homeless adults (of course, no women with children allowed), the overwhelming majority of whom choose the streets.

Nationally, approximately 80 percent of all street homeless do not want to integrate back into society. They do not want services, and they certainly do not want a job. They want to be homeless. Why else would the chronically homeless migrate from Miami-Dade to Pinellas Hope?

As I am sure you know, Miami-Dade has thousands of beds and outstanding programs for their homeless, along with a phenomenal success rate. They do, however, require a certain level of civility and an earnest effort to assimilate back into society.

Pinellas Hope is proof that tents do not work. After sucking up more than $3 million in tax and charitable dollars its first 20 months, it is a miserable failure. Only 16 percent remained in housing six months after being discharged from a tent. In stark contrast, several area homeless services that offer hard housing, a bed, services and programs have more than 90 percent still in housing 12 months after discharge. Unfortunately, Pinellas Hope's greediness actually caused at least two homeless shelters in Pinellas to close during their failed attempt to "rezone" - shameful. In addition, the women-with-children homeless population in Pinellas increased by more than 30 percent during that same time period.

There is not a homeless coalition in the country that supports tents for human beings, including our local coalition.

Of course, Pinellas Hope still has bragging rights with respect to transitioning many chronically homeless residents to long-term, air-conditioned housing and three squares a day - it's called jail. Violent offenses, both on- and off-site, are ongoing.

We need to invest in beds and shelters that allow women with children, as well as offer services. That the county commission has not effectively responded to this problem in well over 10 years is surely not adequate justification to place this type of operation in a community of more than 62,000 residents. Pinellas Hope is more than 3 miles from the nearest residence. Conversely, Hillsborough Tent City would have been just hundreds of feet from homes where children play and the elderly are free to walk, less than a quarter mile from a bus transfer station where thousands of children pass through each day, and within two miles of eight schools.

If the Diocese of St. Petersburg owns more than 280 properties, some of them with more than 300 contiguous acres and utilities but miles from schools and residences, why would you think the once-proposed Hillsborough Tent City, located in the middle of the East Lake-Orient Park community, be "the best solution"? You, like many others, were misinformed or fell into the feel-good notion of helping your fellow man.

The real problem with the recent and dramatic increase in our homeless population likely has little to do with the economy. These new homeless residents have been ousted from neighboring counties by stricter panhandling and other laws. Hillsborough County's failure to enact more stringent laws regarding panhandling, and adequately enforce area loitering, public drunkenness and other laws, has broadcast an invitation for the chronically homeless to come here. And let us not forget, if they can easily migrate to Tampa from Pinellas and other counties, they will certainly migrate to area neighborhoods in the East Lake-Orient Park community.

God will surely bless those homeless services like the Salvation Army and HEP for their efforts to deal with this issue. But think about it - animal services would most certainly penalize me if the only shelter I offered my dog was a tent. Rather than just stating homelessness is a "complex issue," why don't you get to the heart of the matter, offer solutions to our county commission and apply the pressure necessary to get something done?

Hal Hart

Tampa

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