New apartment complex offers housing for Tampa's chronically homeless

01/24/13 Ella Wind
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Two years ago, Tampa government officials began to investigate options for addressing Tampa's homeless population, which numbered around 18,000 people. On Wednesday, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at Cypress Landing housing complex in North Tampa, the first permanent housing complex for the chronically homeless in Hillsborough County.

The Cypress Landing complex will house the chronically homeless, those who are repeatedly homeless or have been homeless for more than a year. Jenine LaCoe is the director of outpatient services for Mental Healthcare Inc. She says that social programs which serve homeless people often neglect the chronically homeless, due to fear or misunderstanding.

"I've heard folks say ' Oh, they want to live on the street.' And I just want to educate that I don't believe anyone wants to live somewhere where it's unsafe, that they get rained on, that they don't have a restroom to use, that they get bit by bugs, that they can't leave their belongings for five minutes because someone will take them. But why they may not engage into services right away has to do with mental health symptoms. They might be paranoid, they might be distrustful, they might not believe that there is any hope, they might be depressed. Mental illness plays a huge part with individuals that are on the street."

It's an approach to homelessness known as “housing first.” This new approach is being used in several other cities nationwide. Guy King, who co-chairs the project says this offers a more permanent and cost-effective solution to the problem of homelessness.

“They told us, 'You don't want to build one of those gigantic shelters, we're not doing that anymore.' We're doing homes first for the chronically homeless. We're taking them right off the street. We're putting them right into housing. And that way we can clean them up, we can case manage them, we can get some of them back on their medication. And you find out, you wouldn't even recognize some of these people.”

King added that the project will also benefit the University Community Area around Cypress Landing by re-habiting a blighted property.

Joe Rutherford, CEO of Mental Healthcare said that the project came together through a public-private partnership.

“This was something that was not done by any one single agency or individual. As you heard in the presentation today, you had independent business people: Guy King and Tod Leiweke from the Lightning, Carol Reed came in, the County Commission got involved, you had individual agencies such as ours, Mental Healthcare Inc."

The 24-unit complex is just the first of many to come, says Karen Frashier, Director of Mental Healthcare Incorporated.

“There are 700 chronically homeless people in the Tampa Bay Area. The goal of Steps Forward is to house at least 500 people in five years in their own apartments.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony came a day before the biannual census of the homeless in Hillsborough County. People who don’t have a home or who are living with someone else can call a phone bank to report their situation. Volunteers will take calls on Thursday until 11:30 p.m. The number to call is 1-800-528-0808.

previous WMNF coverage of this story.

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I am homeless and I'm and writing this message even before I call the 800#. I need to be sure about availibility of apts.

I live in my car in Brandon. Just trying to get a job and get off the dependent side of living.