Tampa City Council members express themselves on homelessness

After reading about the group's findings in the Trib (which reportedly includes focusing on "the 700 or so hard-core homeless" who have mental problems), Council member Yolie Capin called for a motion to request that the public/private group allow one member of the City Council to be on their board.

That prompted Councilwoman Lisa Montelione to ask if it were possible to make such a request, since it was her understanding that Murman had convened the group on her own, without a formal vote by her colleagues on the County Commission. Then Montelione admitted she has had private discussions with the group, and then said she was part of another group that included the same officials that would be discussing homelessness, beginning next Monday in a meeting that includes Mayor Buckhorn, Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County chair Rayme Knuckles and others involved with the U.S. Department of Urban and Housing Development.

Earlier, a regular attendee at council meetings, Don Rhode, said it was a disappointment to see the discussion of homelessness on the council's agenda every two weeks, yet there has been no report forthcoming from the Buckhorn administration.

That prompted Councilman Harry Cohen, who initially was reported to have been involved in the Murman task force, to say that the reason the homeless issue continues to appear on the council's agenda is because they don't want the issue to disappear from public view. "We want to shine a light on this problem and not have it swept under the rug."

Then Councilwoman Mary Mulhern spoke up about how she was frustrated about not being able to get more involved with a task force dealing with panhandling and homelessness that met in 2010 and 2011 that mostly consisted of Hillsborough County officials. Because former Council member Joe Catano was on that board, Mulhern said she was told it would be a violation of Sunshine Laws for her to be involved, and thus she only attended one meeting of that group.

No word on when the details about the task force led by Murman will release its findings to the public.

After the Tampa City Council passed a partial ban on panhandling last fall after nearly a year-long debate, several council members expressed frustration that they had been almost exclusively focused on being punitive, vs. finding positive solutions to the escalating homelessness problem.

Such comments have been met with indifference if not disdain by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who says it's not the city's but the county's responsibility to handle such services. In fact, a committee led by Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman has been meeting for several months outside of the public's eye on the issue, and appears to almost be ready to make their findings public.

Actually they did so to the Tampa Tribune editorial board on Tuesday. But Murman's formal proposal to her colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners was scratched from the agenda of the board's meeting on Wednesday.

But reports of that plan — as well as a comment from an activist during the public hearing portion of the Council meeting — opened the floodgates from council members on Thursday who wanted to say that they care a lot about the issue but have been somewhat handicapped in being able to do anything about it.

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