Homeless Shelter Takes Toll on Small Businesses, Local Tax Revenue

Homeless Shelter Takes Toll on Small Businesses, Local Tax Revenue

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

11 Responses to "Homeless Shelter Takes Toll on Small Businesses, Local Tax Revenue"

  1. Yessss..the situation on Pensacola Street is an absolute disgrace!
    The universities and community College bring in revenue for the city and county, so whyyyyy would you put the homeless shelter in between them? People urinating all over the sidewalk, sleeping in tarps on the sidewalks..trash littering the ground..What was once an area for students walking, jogging, biking is now an absolute disaster..Not to mention the crime rate..Way to go county and city officials ..great decision!! Not to mention the negative impact on surrounding businesses and property values.
    Most democratic ran cities are dumps..Tallahassee is no exception.

  2. The county and city spent $6.2 million on homelessness efforts just Last Year alone, plus MANY $Millions over the past several Years. SO, I will pass on my Plan with up dated figures. It’s a bit long though.

    You can pass all the Homeless Ordinances you want but, until you actually do something FOR the Homeless, the Ordinances will not work. Both the City and County Commissions have thrown big Money at this problem over the years and yet none of it went to actually trying to solve the actual problem to help the Homeless.

    You must first acknowledge that, to help the Homeless, you have to actually HELP the Homeless. We start by building a Gated Quonset Hut Community. Starting with Ten Quonset Huts and having room to expand to 20 with each measuring about 40×100 Foot. One is used as the Shower facilities that will also house the Laundry Facility, one will be used as the Kitchen and Dinning Hall, one used for the Offices and Classrooms with Internet while seven are used for housing, more can be added as needed. Yes, like an Army Bootcamp.

    The Quonset Huts are set up, side by side lengthwise. You start with 10 to 20 acres of land, build a square -U- shaped Road to divide the property into three equal strips. The Activity Quonset Huts will be in the middle while the Living Quarters Quonset Huts will run down the outer parcels. We know the Community needs to be on a Bus Route therefor, there are few places to choose from to buy 10 to 20 Acres, that is why we should act fast before Developers snap it all up I am thinking Tram Road between S. Monroe and Capital Circle.

    To maintain the Property and Buildings, Cooking, Cleaning, Grounds Keeping, Maintenance, you assign Jobs to those staying there that are able to do them. Doing this will give them time to get cleaned up, get the help they need and hopefully find a Job. It will also give them an Address so they can receive their Benefits, especially since many of them are Veterans. The hardest part of this project will be to keep the Commissions from over designing and over spending on it, there is no need to even do a Study on it. Simple and basic is all that is needed for this. 10 Acres could hold up to 30 Quonset Huts with plenty of green space between them and around them as well as the Interior Road and Parking. You are not building all 30 Quonset Huts at once, just the first 10 to start then expand as needed.

    My estimates come in at $750,000 for 10 Acres of Land, $300,000 for Fencing & Gates, $250,000 for each of the Seven Living Quarters Quonset Huts to be Built out and Furnished, $300,000 for each of the other Three Quonset Huts, $1,000,000 for the Road, Drainage and Sidewalks, $750,000 for Sewer, Water and Electric, $50,000 for Landscaping and $100,000 for Miscellaneous things for a Total of $5,600,000. These are just estimates from the research I have done. 40 People can be housed in each Quonset Hut for a total of 280 Total People in the first Seven Huts. The Plan is that, the majority of the Residents staying there are only going to be there about 12 to 24 Months until they get back on their feet and find Jobs and move out on their own.

    That’s it. I think this beats all the other Plans tried already.

  3. Each year in January, there is a national count of the homeless in cities/counties. Data is published. Called the Point in Time homeless count, the January 23, 2023 count showed 801 homeless in Tallahassee/Leon County. These data show how many of children, in shelters, or not in shelters (living on the street). About 34% are not in shelters and 14% are children. The largest group is between the ages of 25 to 34 years of age.

  4. The last two paragraphs are telling. In only 13 years, a privately owned property dropped nearly 66% in value when the expectation should have been for the value to double. I, for one, would be looking for someone to turn the lawyers loose on for turning my $28M investment into a $40M loss!

    But this is what happens when politicians meddle in things they don’t understand. You simply cannot play Robin Hood with the taxpayer’s money.

    I worked on the China mainland in the 80s. China had a very simple solution to 100% employment. If a task could be done with manual labor, it was. Even the dumbest guy out there can be taught to understand “this is a shovel, that is a pile of dirt, and the dirt needs to be moved onto that cart. When the cart is full, you can eat.” The cart cannot be effectively moved by manpower alone, so it’s pulled by horse. The horse quickly grasps the concept of “work now, eat later”. When the cart gets to the new location it’s emptied and a diesel powered mover/grader levels and compacts the area where a new building foundation will be laid.

    There are many locations/businesses in town where a guy could be handed a shovel and had the rules explained to him. If he wants a meal, shower, and cot, he’ll figure it out.

  5. This is what “Affordable Housing” will look like. What once was the slums, the ghetto and the projects has a new moniker affordable housing. The big difference is affordable housing will be in your neighborhood. Nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

  6. There are best practices only they cannot be found in blue stained cities so obviously they will never be tried here. The City of Coronado, CA and Colorado Springs, CO have both enacted tough love stances. You give the hobos 3 choices. 1. Accept help from the existing services (short term housing, mental health, substance abuse, etc.) that are in place or 2. Get out of the city/county or 3. Get arrested.

    I fully understand that we have a completely broken legal system where you cannot forcibly commit mentally ill/substance abusing individuals to facilities for treatment. The Baker Act is a joke and useless and until someone self harms or commits an overt criminal act these individuals cannot be touched. If the hobos commit criminal acts then they are pushed into the criminal system for incarceration and maybe treatment. That route is generally cheaper for the state.

    Community based care is also a joke. There are zero enforcement tools to keep the mentally ill/substance abusers from just walking away from treatment and back on the streets.

    Tough love is the only approach left for sane people living under an insane system.

  7. “They hoped…”

    This is what happens when elected officials have absolutely no idea how to solve problems. They guess and they hope and the taxpayers get screwed.

  8. Does anyone know how many people are considered homeless in the Tallahassee area? Also, how many of those people were NOT previous residents of our community before they became homeless?

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