By Tamas Mondovics
While ending homelessness may seem to be an impossible task, it is not something that Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies are sitting around to find out.
Taking the initiative by putting deputies in place to personally get involve with helping the homeless throughout the county, the department has recently raised its efforts aiming to end problem completely.
“In conjunction with a number of homeless assistance agencies, our goal is to end homelessness throughout Hillsborough County,” said Hillsborough County District 4 Community resource deputy Cliff Fletcher.
Fletcher is one several deputies—one in each Districts—that Sheriff David Gee has assigned to spearhead the program, by working within the community to make a difference in the lives of Homeless people.
HCSO’s homeless Initiative actually began several years ago in District 3 assisting in housing or reuniting with family over a 100 persons since 2010.
In 2014, Gee expanded the effort by assigning a deputy to each district.
“I have been sent to training seminars and numerous meetings such as continuum of care, service provider advisory network, ordinance violation court and pre trial intercept court,” Fletcher said adding that he regularly participates in monthly outreach groups with the focus on getting the homeless off the streets into housing.
“We identify the homeless person(s) in our area and see what they need to improve their situation,” he said. “By making personal contact and developing their trust in us, we are able to help them navigate the system and cut away some of the red tape.”
Just in the past six months, Fletcher himself was able to assist six people off the street, although he emphasized that there is still a lot of work left to be done.
“There is a long waiting list and little funding for the homeless,” he said adding that the work typically involves assistance in obtaining birth certificates, Social Security cards and Florida IDs. “In some case, this is all they need to get a job,” he said.
Deputies also assist homeless individuals with getting applications for county health care, Social Security, Medicaid, and VA programs.
When such steps are complete, deputies are able to get many of the homeless housed through collaborated efforts with numerous agencies such as VA hospital, Metro Ministries, Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, Salvation Army, Tampa Police, Community housing Solutions, Jail Diversion, Northside Mental Health, Grace Point, and many more.
While, learning to navigate the services is a job in itself, Fletcher and his fellow deputies have no doubt about the initiative’s success and the satisfaction it comes with.
“There is no better feeling than giving someone a hand,” he said. “I recall picking up a homeless veteran early one morning from behind a dumpster where he was sleeping. He was very reluctant to go with me for help. I told him the worst thing that could happen (if he didn’t like it) was that I would bring him back to the streets. Through the efforts of Operation Reveille and the VA he had the keys to his own place to lay his head by that night.”
HCSO’s Homeless Initiative is always in need of donated tables, chairs, and other small furniture items to supply a homeless person as they move into their new apartment.
However, short of storage place to keep such items, the department is also seeking assistance to help store items. Hygiene products, new socks, new shoes are also staples that make a big difference.
For more information please visit www.facebook.com/pages/HCSO-Homeless-Initiative/280275338843272