In an effort to combat homelessness and decrease the homeless population, Leon County Commissioners and Tallahassee City Commissioners met on July 13, 2021 in a joint workshop with the Big Bend Continuum of Care (BBCoC).
The officials allocated a total of $6.2 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to address the issue.
The city and the county entered into a contract with the BBCoC and committed $1.4 million. The Big Bend Continuum of Care will use the dedicated funds for street outreach, rapid rehousing, and permanent support housing.
Additionally, a new Homeless Services Category under the Community Human Services Partnership (CHSP) was established, and will receive a one-time benefit of $3.4 million.
The CHSP is the joint planning and funding distribution process for human services grant allocations. There are about six homeless service programs, run by non-profit organizations, which are funded through several categories supported by the CHSP. The CHSP currently has $797,193 for the FY2021.
The remaining $1.7 million of the ARPA funding will support local homeless shelters, such as Kearney Center, Big Bend Homeless Coalition, and Capital City Youth Services.
According to the collaborative report presented during the joint meeting, the data for 2021 indicates there are 621 people experiencing homelessness in Leon County, a decrease of 29% or 184 people from last year. Of those 621 individuals, 197 of them are chronically homeless, which is defined as persons who have been homeless for at least a year or repeatedly while experiencing a disabling condition which makes it difficult to maintain housing.
The report also indicated that over the last year, there has been a 13% increase in homelessness among veterans and a 33% increase in recidivism in homelessness.
Amanda Wander, the Executive Director of the BBCoC, stressed that the meeting was just a beginning She said the keyword is “bold, and bold is what we need to be today to make a difference.”
During their discussion, it was noted that the funds being allocated were not going to be made available until October 2022. City Commissioner Jack Porter and County Commissioner Kristin Dozier voiced concerns regarding the process and the length of time it will take to get the funds to those who are in need. Both commissioners agreed that 15 months is too long to wait.
Additional discussion ensued regarding other options that may help keep individuals experiencing homelessness from interacting with law enforcement or committing crimes. One idea was to set up a permanent camp for individuals to seek shelter instead of settling in the woods or on private property.
Also, mental health issues and how to better help homeless veterans was discussed at length.
Abena Ojetayo, the Director of City Housing and Community Resilience, acknowledged that this is only the beginning, and the commissioners and staff have a broad conversation ahead of them.
Ojetayo stated that, “we are in such an important stage right now, our partners are all at the table and you all have the incredible burden, but also the privilege to usher us into some really bold steps.”