Hillsborough County Commissioners vote to look into possible homeless shelter in Tampa

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Stung by criticism over the past week after rejecting a proposed tent city homeless shelter, the Hillsborough County Commissioners voted unanimously today to looked at  the 'viability' of a shelter at a former mall located on Florida Avenue and Busch Boulevard.

But it was hardly a ringing endorsement of the proposal brought forth by Commissioner Kevin White, who had been a steadfast critic of the tent city project proposed by Catholic Charities - and White admitted he has no idea if the property owner would support such a concept.

Commissioner White said the property resides in the mall as a branch of the Department of Children and Families, as well as other state agencies, making it an ideal "one stop shopping"area for the homeless.

But Commissioner Jim Norman immediately objected, saying that White had failed to inform any members of the local community about the proposal, saying, "what you are doing is wrong, wrong, wrong."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said the idea should be worked out with the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County.  But he still seems shocked by the vehemence of the opposition to the homeless shelter off of East Hillsborough Avenue, saying "Nobody wants an encampment where they live."

Commissioner Rose Ferlita said in recent days she had been discussing with the County's Real Estate Director, Mike Kelly, about any other potential land that the County owns that might be used as a shelter for the homeless.  He said there was one site off of Falkenberg Road near the County's jail complex, but that the County has already discussed using that for other purposes.

He also said he did have a short conversation with the mall's owner yesterday about the proposal floated in a news release by Commissioner White and then reported on in the local media.  Kelly said the initial reaction from the owner was not positive about approving a shelter in an office park.

Commissioner Ferlita then came back and said that with the proposed facility residing in Tampa, discussions would have to ensue with city officials there as well.

After discussing the issue for close to an hour, Commissioners then voted 7-0 to move forward.

However, an interesting comment was made by Commissioner Al Higgenbotham at one point during the discussion. Perhaps reflecting on the intense criticism laid out at him and the other Board members who rejected the Catholic Charities proposal last week, he said, "If nothing else, this shows that we care about the homeless."

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