On February 21st, the Leon County Commission held a lengthy discussion about the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) Deputy Program. Sheriff McNeil updated the Board on the progress of the program since its official launch in June 2022.
According to McNeil, the HOST unit has come in contact with 472 homeless individuals and 271 of those contacts became the focus of the program. According to McNeil, only 39% of the homeless individuals reported Leon County/Tallahassee as their home of origin.
McNeil indicated that his presentation was preliminary and a formal report will provided in the near future.
The Sheriff recommended continuing the pilot program, but emphasized that this is not a law enforcement issue, it is a community issue. He stated, “Arresting our way out of this problem is not the preferred method.” He noted that if the commission were to enact an ordinance that resulted in arrests he would comply. However, it would be difficult for him to do so considering Leon County’s detention facility is at maximum capacity. He recommended further engagement with faith-based groups and non-profits.
Commission Proctor noted that the Sheriff’s presentation did not put him any closer to wanting to enact an ordinance. Proctor said District 1 is getting its fair share of concern when it comes to wandering. He stated, “I’m not sure if it’s illegal to wander but there’s fear.” He said that, “People are afraid to let their children go outside to play, and that’s certainly not the community we’ve fought for.”
Commissioner O’Keefe stated, “I’m sure that not one of your officers entered the law enforcement career thinking that you would be coordinating homeless outreach.” He continued, “It’s not where we want to be, but clearly you’re making progress.” O’Keefe fully supported McNeil’s recommendations.
Commissioner Minor said he hears more about the homelessness issue than anything and mentioned the recent fatalities within the homeless community stating, “It’s a problem that needs to be addressed–we need to do something.”
Commissioner Caban agreed with McNeil on not being able to solve homelessness with arrests. Caban stated, “I could argue further that this is most visible in my district in comparison to other districts in our community.” He is not seeing the improvements he would like to, and proposed a workshop.
Commissioner Welch stated, “We still have people dying on the streets, killing each other, getting run over by cars.” Welch is concerned they are “circling the wagon,” and agreed with Caban on starting a workshop.
The Commission voted unanimously to convene a workshop and to include faith-based and non-profit groups.