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Leon County Commissioners making strides to address homeless

Posted at 7:29 PM, May 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-23 19:29:43-04

Out of the 801 people in the Big Bend experiencing homelessness, 720 are in Leon county. That's according to the Big Bend Continuum of Care's Point in Time count.

Leon County Commissioners have approved new recommendations after a homelessness workshop to help reduce that number. Some of those recommendations include additional funding for street outreach programs, emergency shelters and creating a county-wide ordinance to discourage panhandling in medians.

"The steps we took today are going to build on more steps for tomorrow to build a better and stronger Leon County," said Vicki Butler, director of operations.

The Big Bend Continuum of Care's new Point in Time data shows 95% of the 801 people experiencing homelessness live in Leon County.

BBCOC, along with other agencies, are coming together to present new data and make 10 recommendations to commissioners on ways to decrease that number. County Commissioner David O'Keefe believes some of these recommendations are what's needed to help right now.

"The number one way to to prevent homelessness is build more affordable housing," said O'Keefe. "That's a long term solution that we're working on, and things today are policies and funding opportunities and services that immediately can start helping."

One of the eight approved recommendations is using American Rescue Plan Act dollars to continue funding street outreach programs, like the Leon County Sheriff's Office Homeless Outreach Street Team.

Since last year, the HOST program has engaged and assisted 300 homeless individuals, but HOST Deputy Paul Pacchioli believes additional funding can help them do more.

"More street outreach is definitely needed so we can continue on a better calendar of we're able to get and see them and work through the steps," said Pacchioli.

Pacchioli said they're able to connect with people experiencing homelessness and get them the help they need.

"We're just a vessel, as I say, we are a resource to get them connected to the programs that get them housing," said Pacchioli.

Connecting them to places like the Kearney Center for things like showers, meals, case management and other resources called day services. Butler said they see around 200 people a week for day services. She says the board allocating half a million dollars for emergency shelters to increase their day service programs will not only allow for them to reach more people, but is also one step closer to solving the problem.

"With the outreach coupled with day services, it will make it where we can turn people from literally homeless to literally housed within a much shorter window of time," said Butler.

The funding for emergency shelters to increase day services could be hit as soon as the end of the summer. However, other recommendations, such as creating a new ordinance that would make sign holding and panhandling in medians illegal, would be brought back to the board at a later meeting.