The homeless have been seen less and less in Tampa over the past few years, and apparently other counties have taken notice.
Last week, an Orlando agency dedicated to finding jobs for the disabled sent a woman and her three children to Tampa with promises of arrangements to take care of the family. When they arrived, however, they quickly found no such arrangements had been made.
“Outside agencies, outside this county, are sending more homeless people to Hillsborough County because we take care of them and try to get them assistance,” sheriff’s Col. Greg Brown said, as reported in The Tampa Tribune. “I want to lay the challenge down to those county organizations. Step up and do what’s right and address the problem within your own jurisdiction.”
For years, Tampa struggled with high rates of homelessness. Shelters were full every night, and many were unable to seek aid. When the city decided to tackle the issue, it went about it in a very bizarre way.
Government officials want citizens to believe the creation of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI), the Hillsborough County Sherriff Office’s (HCSO) Homeless Initiative, a program dedicated to finding temporary housing for those on the street, and other similar programs were the sole reasons homelessness is declining.
In the last five years, the HSCO Homeless Initiative alone has helped “more than 500 people find temporary housing and provided the resources to permanently house more than 200 people who had been living on the street,” according to The Tampa Tribune.
A survey found that 1,931 people were living without a fixed residence in Hillsborough in 2015. This was a 0.7 percent decrease from the 2,243 counted in 2014. The number is steadily decreasing, and this is due in part to the grants recently allocated to homeless services in the community.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman told The Tampa Tribune over $7 million has been invested over the last several years to aid the homeless in the community.
However, Murman and HCSO failed to recognize the other alarming factor in the decreasing number. In September 2014, the Tampa City Council passed an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest anyone they saw sleeping or “storing personal property in public.”
That’s right. While Tampa is making an effort to help some of the homeless in its community, they are carting off those they don’t have room for to jail.
Several other cities began to adopt the policy, and Tampa saw an easy way to clean up the streets. But jailing people for falling asleep on a park bench isn’t solving the problem at all, it’s simply sweeping it out of eyesight.
Yes, it does look like there has been a drop in homelessness in Tampa. And to an extent that image is true. The new initiatives focused on providing aid and services to the community make a positive impact on hundreds of lives across the city.
But those services are only one side of a very skewed coin. One woman is granted a warm bed and aid while the other spends the night in a jail cell.
Homelessness is not something one chooses. According to the Tampa/Hillsborough County Continuum of Care 2015 Homeless Count in Hillsborough County, 55 percent of homeless people said the reason for their homelessness was related to employment or financial reasons.
Criminalizing those who received an unlucky roll of the dice is not the answer to decreasing the number of those living on the streets. Continue reaching out to those in need and providing them with assistance, and slowly, but surely, Tampa will see the decline it desires.
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.