The “big takeaway” from his report, he said, is that St. Petersburg can’t “build [its] way out of this.”
He said that St. Petersburg’s infrastructure is more elaborate than other cities; so building more structures is not the answer. The city’s current infrastructure, however, lacks connection, and the city should focus on the relationship between the different agencies involved in addressing homelessness, he said.
Murbat said that successful cities have one or two agencies to deal with homelessness, while St. Petersburg has about 13. He suggested creating a small board of about 15 to 20 people not directly involved with the agencies, because all the agencies seek their own funding and grants.
“There are top notch agencies, but they still don’t integrate outside agency walls,” while cities like St. Louis, San Antonio and San Diego have had success with this type of approach, he said.
Murbat has seen a 50 percent decrease in homelessness in downtown St. Petersburg since the city began issuing more NTAs—Notice to Appear—and then offering assistance to homeless people who qualify.
“If you look at the first three to four months, there was little improvement,” he said, but he started to see improvements around January.
“It’s really giving them the support and services they need” while helping businesses downtown that want to see the issue addressed, said councilmember Leslie Curran.
However, homeless families are a major issue Murbat identified in his report.
“Families and children are really in crisis,” he said, adding that 158 families have nowhere permanent to stay after 5 p.m. on a given night. There has been no central location to send people for help—it took 57 days to place a single mother with two children who worked two jobs and did not have any substance abuse problems, but who was homeless because of family issues, Murbat said.
There has also been an issue of shelters turning away families with teenage boys and fathers. The shelters’ official policies were to not deny them, but in practice, some shelters have not followed it. Murbat said this has been pointed out and the agencies are starting to recommit to the policy. St.Petesrburg needs to be more strategic in how it deals with homelessness, Murbat said. The closing of a shelter in Clearwater was “not strategic,” he said.
“If you take it strategically and holistically, you can get to some good decisions really fast,” he said.
Part of the solution should be better use of bed space and improvements to existing shelters, more collaboration among shelters and agencies, and reduce and relocate street feeders, Murbat said. Mayor Bill Foster said that he would pursue an ordinance against street feeding in the future if he feels it becomes necessary.