And now for something completely different: Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners talks about homelessness - not panhandling

The plan's goals are to Improve access to and coordination of homeless services, as well as maximize beds and units for the homeless - with money needed most urgently to address the issue (the dilemma, Rogoff worried, was that for this plan to work there would be the need for the community to come up with that cash). He said that could only happen though a public/private partnership , since county government would not have the resources to do so on its own.

Other issues mentioned were job placement and retention of the homeless, as well as state and federal policies and develop an action plan to address unaccompanied youth.

Tom Cavaleri runs the county's Health & Social Services department said there were two key benchmarks to measure if the county would ultimately become successful in reducing the number of homeless. He said the goal was permanent housing, but realistically said it would have to be a phased in approach to see results, referring to the fact that according to the last official count of the homeless, there are approximately 6,796 people who don't sleep on a bed in the county (that's based on the calculation that
there were 9,822 homeless in the county as of 2009, with only 3,026 beds to ground.(New census numbers are due next month, he added).

Caleveri also said that the county needs to develop a plan to increase access to bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, as well as computers for employment opportunities, and he says there's an initiative in the works to share resources with the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance

Commissioner Mark Sharpe agreed with Rogoff that any type of solution will have to have strong support from the private sector. Commissioner Sandy Murman has convened a policy group looking at mental health issues, which is related to the homeless issue. She says her group will be ready to report to the BOCC in the next month to month and a half.

For all of the talk about panhandlers in the city of Tampa over the past half year, the fact of the matter is that since a majority of Hillsborough County Commissioners rejected a proposal in the fall of 2009 to build a so-called "tent city" on Eastern Hillsborough Avenue, the board - which unlike Tampa, is responsible for providing services for the homeless - has been pretty much AWOL about what to do about the nearly 10,000 (as of 2009) homeless people in the County.

But that changed on Wednesday, when the outgoing director of the county's Family and Aging services department, Dave Rogoff, came before the board to discuss a report on what the county needs to do to provide for the homeless, produced by his department and the Health & Social Services division.

He began his presentation by emphasizing that though the motivation behind producing the report came up because of the panhandling imbroglio, "Let me very clearly note: this is a separate issue. Not all panhandlers are homeless, and not all homeless are panhandlers."

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