Hillsborough County Commission approves Sheriff Deputies in elementary schools and creates new plans for the homeless & animal shelters

01/23/14 Sean Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: Hillsborough County Commission, Jim Previtera, Karen Buesing, Metropolitan Ministries, Dexter Barge, animal services

Today the Hillsborough County Commission unanimously approved funds for a program that will place Sheriff Deputies in ten elementary schools for at least four years. Commissioners designated nearly $120,000 in matching funds for a $1.25 million grant to pay for the officers for three years. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Colonel Jim Previtera says the county will be responsible for costs for at least an additional year after that.

Hillsborough County Schools will pay half the cost of placing deputies in the ten elementary schools.

"Immediately after Sandy Hook the Sheriff committed a number of resources to enhancing the presence at elementary schools and then we pursued this grant. We actually deployed these ten SRD, what we call school resource deputies last week. Each one of them covers 2 schools and the schools are geographically located the maximum is 5 miles, most of them are within a 2 mile radius. These schools are identified based on a number of factors that the school board and the community thought were significant in placing these deputies. I will tell you that the sheriff's goal is ultimately to someday see a deputy sheriff in every elementary school in Hillsborough County, not just for safety but because of the long term impact we believe that that presence will have on law enforcement's relationships with the community so we appreciate your support."

The Hillsborough County Commission also unanimously approved today what it hopes will be a fix to a troubled program for housing individuals who are homeless. Under the new plan, the county’s program to provide emergency or bridge housing for homeless families and single women would be privatized. The county will give nearly $1.2 million to Metropolitan Ministries for services previously provided by the county’s Homeless Recovery Program. But during public comment commissioners heard concern about the move from Karen Buesing.

"I love Metropolitan Ministries, it's a fabulous organization but I was really disappointed that it only provides housing and services for homeless families and for women. Because we have in this county a number of homeless youth. I'm using the definition basically in the McKinney-Vento Act, and in particular I'm referring to the kids who are 18 to 23 who don't have a fixed permanent night time residence and are not in the custody of a parent or guardian. Commissioner Beckner was at our first annual homeless youth forum last summer and got to hear first hand from about a half dozen of those kids. There are many of them. There are no dollars attached to these kids. They have not been in the Child Welfare Services system and so they are just out there on their own. There are a couple of programs like the Lazy Days Homeless Youth Program and like Starting Right Now. Starting Right Now is dealing with the cream of the crop and they are taking the best and the brightest and serving them in a very intense fabulous way but their services are not available to the vast majority of these kids. I don't know how the contract with Metropolitan Ministries came into being. I understand there are 2 more contracts being considered also which target particular populations but, again, do not address these homeless youth, 18 to 23 who are just out there on the streets. If we don't address them they'll wind up in our Juvenile Justice System or our Criminal Justice System or they'll wind up in our Mental Health Care System and they'll wind up in our social service health service needs area. We've got to address them and so my request would be..I don't know if these contracts went out for proposals or not but we really need to make sure that if they do go out for proposals you include a request that they provide housing and transitional and other services to youth, 18 to 23, for whom there are no options."

Buesing is a volunteer with the Lazy Days Homeless Youth Program and is on the Hillsborough-Tampa Homeless Initiative working group on youth homelessness.

In other news, Hillsborough County Commissioners got an update on their new animal shelter program called Be the Way Home from the interim director of Animal Services, Dexter Barge.

"We're in the process of scheduling a big meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and with the folks who are representing them and some other outside agencies along with our communications department here in the coming days and weeks to really dig into our overall marketing plan. That is moving along, there's more to come on that. We think that we have some very sharp people that are going to be involved with that whole program and we're anxious to see exactly how it all shakes out but we think that this is going to be a very, very, good marketing plan once it's completed. Technology in the shelter is taking a priority, our website is completely renovated or being renovated to make it more user friendly, to make it more compatible with our plan. It's going to make it much easier for citizens to access all of the different programs at the shelter. In addition to that we are also moving along with implementing our new software program. We're transferring from a program called Chameleon to Pet Point and staff is working very hard with the vendor and with all of the other players in that and we're hoping to have that implemented within the next 30 to 40 days. Surgery suite renovation is under way. The surgery suite will allow us to process animals through the shelter much faster. We are also in the process or will be bringing on an additional veterinarian and 2 vet techs as support that will support that. That, as well, will give us another resource to help process our animals through the shelter much faster. So those are just a few of the things that are going on now to implement the Be the Way home plan."

Hillsborough County also scheduled a public hearing for February to consider a noise ordinance similar to Tampa’s.

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The commissioners need to explain how they can have a marketing plan for an animal shelter while they leave kids on the street like feral cats.