In the wake of a scandal, Councilwoman Lisa Montelione suggests Tampa start taking care of its homeless population

  • Lisa Montelione

For the past several years, the City of Tampa has spent considerable time and energy crafting punitive ordinances aimed at the homeless. But they haven't spent much money actually providing services for them.

That's because traditionally it's been Hillsborough County's responsibility to administer those services, but they haven't been doing a stellar job with that of late. Earlier this month it was reported that the county had paid more than $625,00 to Hoe Brown to house homeless people in rundown apartments.

The revelation resulted in the firing of one official in the county's Homeless Recovery Program and the resignation of another.

Today, Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said the scandal should motivate the city to take some responsibility for caring for the homeless because outsourcing the responsibility to the county isn't working out so well.

"It has been traditional that Hillsborough County is the lead governmental body that handles programs for homeless, but if Homeless Recovery is an example of how they conduct business, I think we are misplacing those dollars," she said, referring to the Homeless Recovery Program, which offers financial assistance and case management services aimed at helping homeless individuals become self sufficient.

It was made public that caseworkers with that program were sending clients to the well-connected GOP bigwig when the Tampa Bay Times revealed that Brown was housing tenants in "deplorable conditions."

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill has ordered the county's internal auditor to investigate the Homeless Recovery Program for fraud and other abuses, something that Montelione said she looked forward to seeing.

"We need to take control of the situation ourselves, because I'm not sure if anybody else is doing as good a job as we can," Montelione said. "I think we need to focus more on solving our own problems than trusting others to do it for us."

Montelione made her comments to Tampa Chief Financial Officer Sonya Little, who was sharing a breakdown that showed that the city has put aside $2 million from next year's budget to spend on homeless programs.

But Councilman Frank Reddick observed that not all of that money is coming out of the general fund. Much of that funding comes from the federal government or the state to administer certain programs such as housing for people with AIDS. In fact, there are only two specific line items coming from the city's general fund — $55,000 to the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, and $150,000 to the Tampa Police Department for an officer and equipment specified to deal with the homeless.

Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said she sees that as a "mixed contribution," because the city is paying the TPD in part because of laws that the Council has passed calling for the police to crack down on the homeless.

In 2010 and 2011, the Tampa City Council engaged in an extremely long debate regarding a crackdown on panhandlers who were confronting motorists on city streets. One reason that it took such a long time for them to ultimately pass an ordinance was that they were often conflicted about the fact that they were voting to criminalize the homeless without offering any type of solutions to the problem. The answer coming from both the Iorio and Buckhorn administrations was that those types of services were to be provided by Hillsborough County.