On Monday at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County (HCHC) organized an informal question and answers forum. The Q&A followed a presentation by Tampa-Hillsborough Citizens Task Force on Homelessness as they unveiled their recommendations for a 10-year plan to stave off and end homelessness in Hillsborough County. The audience which came to the forum was comprised mostly of individuals from the agencies and organizations, both public and private, involved in the developmental stages and the eventual implementation of the 10 year plan.
The HCHC was formed at the behest of the Hillsborough County government after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earmarked the area as a focal point of its campaign to reduce and elevate homelessness in the United States.
According to Lesa Weikel, Community Relations Manager for the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County (HCHC), the HUD assessed Hillsborough County as one of the largest homeless population areas of the United States. The HCHC has released data on homelessness in Hillsborough County which underscores the necessity of the 10-year plan. Some of the raw numbers taken from the HCHC fact sheet are; “17,755 men, women and children are homeless in Hillsborough County on any given night. (Of which) 7,336 are living in the street (and) 10,419 are doubled up with family/friends.” Weikel clarified further that of the more than 7,000 living on the street circa 1200 are accommodated in emergency shelters or transitional shelters. HUD and the HCHC view the area as a opportunity to showcase Tampa-Hillsborough as an early adapter at combating homelessness.
Due to the fact that the monies allocated to the HCHC are from federal sources, HUD has enacted stringent guidelines to the implementation of the 10-year plan. The final recommendations were the culmination of two days of impassioned community discussions held the previous week. In devising this comprehensive plan the coalition focused on six primary issues: systems integration; discharge planning; performance measures; health (including behavioral); employment and incomes; and housing. In order to set parameters for the successful implementation and execution of the 10 year plan the HCHC needed accurate and reliable demographic data. Moreover, HUD requires a ICT database to be maintained; a so called “Homeless Management Information System” (HMIS).
The HCHC recognizes that their database, Unity, is essential in harvesting the demographic statistics in order to achieve the goals set forth in the 10 year plan. The quality of the demographic data stands and falls on the information entered into it. HUD funded agencies are mandated to enter all relevant data which aids both the federal government and local government in overseeing and managing the program. Program manager Irene Pijuan of the firm Corporation for Supportive Housing, the non profit organization which coordinated the discussions and drafted the final recommendations, says that system integration and efficiency are integral to the success of the 10-year plan. A fine tuned ICT portion will better aid the plan by detecting patterns and establishing trends which become apparent when all the systems of the various agencies are integrated. This is important because HUD has prescribed “best practices” that are meant as guidelines but which are not appliance mandated. This will allow HCHC to adjust its focus to the specific needs of Hillsborough County as the statistical data would dictate on a local not federal level.
Most of those in attendance are affiliated with the service side of the HCHC causing the presentation to seem like a sermon to the choir due to the fact that they have all been instrumental in drafting the recommendations. However, members of the Occupy Tampa movement voiced their concerns about what they considered a theoretical detachment from the realities which they encounter being homeless. The representatives from the HCHC were in agreement that, although the wording had been formulated according to governmental protocols, there is a need to make the plan more humane and accessible.
The final recommendations of the HCHC 10-year plan will be posted on their website for 30 days allowing for community feedback. Once the 30 days have elapsed the recommendations will enter the next phase which will include more quantitative details about implementation as the plan moves towards ratification.