On both sides of Tampa Bay, meeting the needs of the homeless continues to strain public and private resources. It's also testing the patience of neighborhoods that bear a disproportionate share of the burden. Short-term solutions will require better cooperation between nonprofits serving the homeless and nearby residents, but in the long term reducing homelessness will require more creative solutions and more public money.
In pockets of Tampa and St. Petersburg, frustrated neighbors say an influx of homeless seeking services is eroding their quality of life as problems spill out from shelters and kitchens. In St. Petersburg, neighborhood leaders near the St. Vincent de Paul Society's shelter say their streets have become dumping grounds for syringes and bottles, staging areas for fights and de facto bathrooms. It's a similar situation in Tampa's V.M. Ybor neighborhood, where Trinity Cafe serves about 300 meals a day to homeless peoplewho wander onto porches and yards and leave residents feeling unsafe and overburdened. While the nonprofits are performing an invaluable service, they also have a responsibility to work with city officials to reduce the impact on nearby residents.
There are no easy solutions to an issue facing cities nationwide, and homelessness will not be solved simply by moving people around. The situation near the St. Vincent de Paul Society's shelter worsened after the bus shelters were removed from around St. Petersburg's Williams Park downtown, where there are fewer homeless people than before. In Tampa, a supervisor for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit checks bus shelters along Nebraska Avenue and directs homeless people to move. These are short-term responses to a long-term problem.
Lasting solutions will require a greater commitment of public money and more innovative thinking. One intriguing example is in Miami-Dade County, where a 1 percent sales tax on food and beverage sales at large establishments that sell alcohol is set aside to fight homelessness and domestic violence. The model provides a stable funding source for this chronic problem, which has gone underfunded by local governments around Tampa Bay.
A smart change in federal policy is also producing temporary hardships. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is awarding money to projects that steer homeless people into permanent housing, rather than temporary shelters. Local agencies have responded in promising ways. Pinellas Hope, Faith House and Celebrate Outreach are building tiny, 400- to 500-square-foot houses to help people move off the street — a dramatic upgrade from mats on floors and tents. But HUD's "housing first" approach has left local shelters facing funding cuts.
City and county leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay need to commit more funding for homeless services of all types, including permanent and transitional housing, food, substance abuse treatment and health care. Too often in Pinellas, homelessness has been tagged as a St. Petersburg problem or county problem. But homelessness knows no boundaries, and cities throughout the county have an obligation to contribute to fixing it.
Likewise, nonprofit agencies should also help with reducing problems landing on people's doorsteps. As they work to help the area's homeless, they must also be good neighbors.