A six-member Homestead City Council approved several related items dealing with City homeless issues in a lengthy session on Wednesday November 20. This was the first meeting of the new Council following the general election.
City staff prepared a package to address homelessness beginning with a new ordinance to ban temporary encampments and storage of personal property on public rights-of-way.
“The agenda items tonight are a holistic approach to the issue of homelessness,” said City Manager George Gretsas. “They are a compassionate plan that treats the social issues involved including enforcement as well.”
“I appreciate these items are interconnected,” said CouncilmembernPatricia Fairclough-Staggers. “Addressing people who’ve fallen short into homelessness is a sensitive issue.”
“It’s shocking to me that children are literally on the street and that a city can allow that to happen,” added Manager Gretsas. Discussion revealed that county programs can take two weeks to respond after an initial homeless assessment.
The temporary encampment Ordinance makes it unlawful to camp on public property without a permit. A person cannot be charged unless they are told of a confirmed available alternative shelter with details in writing, informed of free transportation to the shelter, told personal property can be stored with the police for up to 30 days, and the shelter offer is refused or the person otherwise refuses to comply.
The penalty for an offense is a $500 fine or sixty days in jail or both for each day of violation.
If a temporary encampment is removed, police must secure the possessions and keep them for 90 days until claimed. Notice affixed to the ground must include a telephone number and location where property can be retrieved.
“This is the small town of Homestead doing what it has always done – taking care of each other,” said Councilmember Larry Roth. .
Staff next asked the Start off Smart (SOS) non-profit operating within the police department to estimate the cost of temporary housing for homeless families that are waiting for county services. The agenda item for $51,050 is SOS’s estimated annual cost for temporary services to 30 families a year including the cost of transportation to relocate.
“I’m fearful we may find ourselves in a situation where word gets out to cities in close proximity and then a regional problem becomes a tsunami on our services,” said Mayor Steve Losner. “Is there a condition here where we help our people first? Can we track where people come from so this doesn’t spiral out of financial control?”
“Your concern is real, “said Manager Gretsas. “We see this as a Band-Aid – that there are other layers to be held accountable.”
“We don’t do a whole lot of lobbying on the county level and we’ve been fairly unsuccessful in getting quick action for needs we have here in the City,” Gretsas said. “The solution is for the County to provide funding so that on any given night there are no children sleeping outside.”
Council also considered three separate items to administer to the homeless population needs.
“Team Homestead” was created in partnership with Homestead Hospital, SOS, and City police to fund Signify Health. The program provides $130,000 per year for three years to provide early intervention services.
The company Signify Health seeks to maintain and manage a network of community-based organizations to direct community services toward more focused care. Coordinating resources among agencies save time and money and provide more efficient services.
Using a hospital emergency room as a primary care facility is the most expense form of medical care. Staff memos claim homeless people tend to have disproportionate mental illness, substance abuse disorders, physical illness and trauma, and are the highest users of costly medical services.
Police are an essential part of the collaboration because they are in direct contact with the homeless. Officers who can connect the homeless to service providers are better capable of dealing with situations.
Homestead Hospital offered a direct grant agreement of $100,000 for each of three years to fund the Team Homestead concept, administered by Signify Health.
In addition, the health foundation of south Florida granted $30,000 toward the effort, applies to innovative screening and referral to address the social needs of Homestead residents.
Homestead Council unanimously approved the five agenda items on homelessness.