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HomeAt Home & BeyondCommunity Agencies Come Together to Combat Homelessness

Community Agencies Come Together to Combat Homelessness

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You don’t have to live in Hernando County for long – or pretty much any other county in Florida, for that matter, to recognize homelessness as one of the larger problems residents face. At virtually every major intersection, it’s not hard to spot a homeless person. The reasons for the number of homeless in the area are both simple and complicated. Some are homeless because they want to be, while others have had a series of circumstances in their lives that have caused them to lose everything. Still, others are homeless because of mental and drug issues that have gone untreated for far too long. From older individuals to young families, homelessness is a fact of life in our state.

How many homeless people are in Hernando County? The official state statistics last put the number at 169 in 2021. (www.flhealthcharts.gov). However, local non-profits who are on the front lines working to help the homeless put the number much higher, generally between 600 and 700, and some state that the actual number may be up to 50 percent higher. Just about any agency will agree that numbers are generally under-reported due to the transient nature of the homeless population, as well as the number of people not identified because they have not sought services.

Some directors of non-profits have observed the number of homeless people increase dramatically since the meteoric rise of real estate values a few years ago. Kendra Kenney, Executive Director of Hernando-based People Helping People Inc. said, “ We have some clients who were forced out of their homes. They were able to afford rent, but when real estate values took off, landlords sold their properties to other investors. The new investors raised the rents to be more in line with the elevated market values. Many people suddenly found themselves on the street, unable to afford the new rent.

In a 2019 series on homeless populations and resource centers, the Hernando Sun identified several organizations that were working to provide resources to ease the problem. In the years that followed that report, yet more Hernando County non-profits have emerged, each doing what they can to help. What Hernando County has been lacking, however, is a coordinated effort among agencies. Assistance agencies may specialize in one particular area but not have all of the resources they need or information to refer their clients to other areas of assistance.

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Recognizing that a team approach to combat homelessness could be more effective, members of some Hernando County non-profits, such as People Helping People and the Hernando Community Coalition, began organizing a “community task force” in May. Dubbed the Hernando Homeless Initiative (HHI), the objectives of the groups are to bring a variety of organizations with different resources together to better serve the homeless community. Kendra Kenney (People Helping People) gave an example of how that would work. Kenney said that, at times, PHP needed a way to transport the people they serve to their resources, such as showers and a medical clinic. Since they do not have buses, by partnering with an organization that does, PHP can achieve that goal.

According to information provided by Hernando Homeless Initiative chairperson Maureen Soliman, the new community task force has been organized to “mobilize existing resources and services and maximize outcomes.” The task force has several stated goals:
• Support the Hernando County Continuum of Care (CoC) in collaboration with agencies to develop and provide innovative solutions to reduce homelessness in Hernando County.
• Implement community-wide, proven models of intervention.
• Utilize data and metrics to evaluate and improve program performance.
• Promote community engagement.

Having completed their second meeting on June 27th, with a group of at least 14 organizations in attendance, HHI has already developed a plan proposed for action. Proposals include:
• Partnering with law enforcement to develop a relationship with “camp leaders” to reduce/remove the criminal element
• Partner with the utilities department to facilitate waste removal and provide for better sanitation
• Partner with Parks and Recreation Departments
• Partner with even more agencies to provide food, medical access, and social services
• Encourage the Hernando County BOCC or the City of Brooksville to hire a manager to coordinate services and grant outreach
• Partner with Career Source and the Pasco Hernando State College to assist in providing job training and employment opportunities as well as scholarships
• Identify resources for local sites to deliver mental health and social services, as well as assistance in applying for entitlement benefits, legal advice, ID cards, etc.
• Work with and assist the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition to coordinate the Continuum of Care through system-wide planning and collaborations

Chairperson Maureen Soliman pointed out that the Hernando County government currently has no real plan, and the problem of homelessness is only getting worse. She added, “We’re not going to solve the problem, but we sure can make it better. We want solutions, we want to help these people and give them some hope.” The HHI is actively seeking to partner with government agencies as well as private ones. Representatives from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office were at the most recent meeting to discuss how local law enforcement can help with the initiative. Also, present was David Howard of Brooksville Parks and Recreation. Howard enthusiastically discussed the possibility of using city-owned parks to help host events.
The Homeless initiative is already planning its first event aimed at helping members of the community who are homeless for late September. That event will be a “one-stop-shop” for those needing services, with area volunteers providing legal and medical services, clothing, veterinarian services, educational assistance, VA advocates, dental care, and even mobile showers.

Persons and organizations wishing to get involved with the Hernando Homeless Initiative can contact:

Tresa Watson, Hernando Community Coalition
[email protected] 352-596-8000
Kendra Kenney,
People Helping People in Hernando County Inc.
[email protected] 352-686-4466

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