Human Needs Go Unserved, Livelihoods Ruined
When the Tallahassee City Commission voted in 2014 to move the homeless shelter from Tennessee Street to the current location off of West Pensacola Street, there was hope that the change would address a number of problems.
During the transition, proponents said the shelter was a state-of-the-art facility that would be more than just a mere homeless shelter. Jacob Reiter, the then Executive Director described the shelter as a “Comprehensive Emergency Service Center.”
At the time, City Commissioner Gil Ziffer – who supported the move – said, “I think all the commissioners and the mayor recognize that this is a good project not only for the homeless but also for the community overall.”
However, recently, the enthusiasm that accompanied the move in 2015 has given way to the reality that the shelter is now not meeting the needs of the homeless and is also hurting local businesses in the immediate area and having financial impacts that reach beyond western Leon County.
In response to this reality, elected officials are publicly voicing frustration over the lack of progress in dealing with the issue.
In addition, businesses and residents are speaking out at meetings providing real life examples of how their livelihood and lives are being impacted.
The Homeless Issue
Since the COVID epidemic, local governments across the nation have been trying to address the issue of homelessness. The problem is compounded by the increased cost of housing.
In Tallahassee there has been workshop after workshop to address the impact of the homeless and to also provide options that will reduce the number of people not sheltered.
On January 24th, 2023, the Leon County Commission held a discussion about the homelessness issue and identified the steps the county is taking to help solve the ongoing problem.
Commissioner Christian Caban initiated the conversation by making a motion to establish a workshop to address the homeless problems. He noted the large number of homeless individuals on Pensacola St. and Monroe St.
Commissioner Bill Proctor added, “We want to be compassionate, but we’ve erred on the side of being soft.” He continued, “You don’t play hard ball using a plastic bat, and this is a hard ball issue.” Proctor also noted that, “We should probably look for best practices and some models from across the country.”
Commissioner Rick Minor addressed the $6.2 million that the county and city spent on homelessness efforts one year ago. He stated, “I think the public out there is looking for answers and looking for resolutions. We had a historical amount of investment in homelessness assistance efforts, and we need to really figure out how that money was spent.”
Businesses, Residents Speak-Up
There is no place where the homeless issue screams louder for a solution than on West Pensacola Street. The homeless shelter, once lauded as an “Comprehensive Emergency Services Center” is now the source of frustration for many who live in the area and for those who run businesses and seek to create a vibrant area comparable the Market District and Midtown.
A ride down the street reveals homeless people milling about store fronts and intersections, camps on vacant land, sidewalks impassable because of disabled homeless unable to move. The human condition in the area is easily viewed from the confines of a vehicle and tells you the shelter is not working as planned.
At recent city and county commission meetings, several people spoke about the crime issues impacting West Pensacola Street. One resident explained the issues taking place on Pensacola Street range from shootings, break-ins, trespassers, assaults, and homelessness. Another resident pointed out how unsafe it felt to simply walk outside on Pensacola Street.
The shelter was relocated in 2014 right between two important economic drivers of the local economy – FSU and TCC. The area should be a bustling center of economic activity, and it is, until you pass the intersection of Ocala and Pensacola heading west. This is where the impact of the shelter and the homeless problem becomes evident.
When ScooterVille of Tallahassee opened approximately 13 years ago on Pensacola Street – before the relocation of the shelter – the company benefited from being located less than one mile away from Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College and minutes from FAMU.
However, the owner recently shared with business colleagues that due “to the increasing crime, danger and vulnerability in the area, we have been forced to make the difficult decision to close our doors.” The business closed for good on September 28th.
The owner added, in the correspondence, “When I started ScooterVille, my plan was to pass on the business to my children. It deeply devastates me that I cannot fulfill that plan now. I cannot in good conscience leave my staff, customers, and family in a situation that is clearly dangerous and unlikely to improve. We have reached a point where we are literally dodging bullets, and it is not a sustainable or safe environment for anyone involved.”
The Financial Impact Beyond Pensacola Street
Oftentimes, the issue with the homeless is outsight for most citizens in a community. The problems exist in an area – like West Pensacola Street – but have little visible impact in other parts of the city. However, a look at the im- pact of the homeless shelter on major investments in the area reveals hidden impacts that affect everyone.
Take for example The Social 2700 apartment complex located across the street from the homeless shelter on West Pensacola Street. The 261-unit complex sold for $28.6 million in 2006 and paid $386,000 in property taxes. After the shelter relocated in 2015, the property sold in 2019 for $9.4 million and paid $195,000 in property taxes.
A review of property and tax records indicates that the property should be valued at approximately $50-$60 million and be paying close to $1 million in property taxes. This loss in tax revenue impacts all taxpayers in Leon County and impacts the services that are needed to address the homeless issue. While efforts by non-profit organizations and law enforcement continue, the ultimate question that will soon face officials is if the shelter should be relocated to give relief to businesses and residents in the West Pensacola Street corridor