Tampa City Council votes to try to find "one-stop shop" for the homeless

Jason Wilson is an emergency room doctor at Tampa General Hospital who ran for the City Council District 3 race earlier this year. Since then he's kept himself active on city issues, and has led a committee that has met over the past couple of months to attempt to do something proactive about the homeless situation, which he says, with over 17,000 such people in Hillsborough County, is an "epidemic," and says that in his line of work it doesn't make sense to treat the symptom without treating the actual disease itself.

Generally it's the county, and not the city that hosts services for the homeless. But ever since a plan for a "Tent City" of sorts went went down in flames two years in Hillsborough, nothing has happened on that front at all, though some commissioners such as Sandy Murman and Mark Sharpe have said that needs to change.

But it's in Tampa, with the increase of panhandlers, where the issue has become pronounced in the past year.

Wilson told Council members that he has spoken with officials with the County's Sheriff's Department, the Public Defenders office, and Mayor Bob Buckhorn, all who support the idea of a single facility that can work with case managers and add beds for the homeless in Tampa/Hillsborough.

There's just one, or actually two problems. Money, of course, but also a physical site.

Wilson said his conversations with Sheriff David Gee were positive, but said the Sheriff did not believe that a potential site, the Orient Road Jail, would be ideal.

Morris Hintzman from Metropolitan Ministries and Rayme Knuckles, chief executive officer of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, were among the officials involved with helping the homeless who said they believed in the general ideas that Wilson's Citizen's Task Force announced.

Acting Council Chair Mary Mulhern said she has spoken with Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and said he had agreed to help look for a potential site.

Council member Harry Cohen said he believed he was speaking for the entire council when he said "We are all committed on working with homelessness an poverty from becoming an acute crises in our streets and in our community."

The Council will revisit the issue on September 22.

  • Jason Wilson

For nearly a year, the Tampa City Council has attempted to tackle the issue of panhandling in the city, but have never passed any type of resolution banning it in any sense, while the people with day-glow vests continue to grow on some of the city's busiest intersections.

One reason the Council had yet to vote on any such ban is the fact that they also are well aware of the economic pains felt by so many in the area that have to an increase of homelessness in Hillsborough County.

So before their vote on Thursday on panhandling, they agreed to a proposal to have city officials begin searching for a facility that can do for the city and county what Safe Harbor in Pinellas County has done for the homeless there (Later in the day, the council approved a partial 6 day ban on panhandling).

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