How One Florida Sheriff Is Changing His Approach with the County’s Homeless

(Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee / Photo: Tampa Tribune)

You can’t “enforce” your way out of the homeless problem.

This notion is what led Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee to rethink the way he and his office dealt with their community’s homeless population, according to The Tampa Tribune.

Sure, his county had the usual issues when it comes to men and women living on the streets. Citizens would complain about panhandlers accosting them, or about the homeless taking up residence in children’s parks, or about the occasional minor offenses committed by a few homeless people now and then.

In the past, Gee would have handled these cases by locking up the homeless people involved. But now he and his deputies are aiming to take a more comprehensive approach to fixing this problem.

The Tampa Tribune reports:

The goal is not to put the homeless behind bars, but to get them the help that will allow them to get off the streets.

And it has worked remarkably well, as the sheriff’s office has partnered with other agencies such at Catholic Charities, Tampa Crossroads and Gracepoint to obtain the homeless the necessary help, whether it’s drug abuse treatment, mental health counseling, job training or veterans benefits.

Sometimes, something as simple as helping them obtain a Social Security card can make the difference between an individual finding shelter or remaining jobless.

The success of the program has been remarkable. More than 500 homeless people have obtained temporary housing, while 200 people have found permanent homes.

But even small cases are now being handled differently. In one instance, a homeless man and woman were panhandling on the road in the middle of traffic. Deputies still removed the couple from the road, but they then went a step further by trying to determine why the man and woman were destitute, and offered help.

“Officers were then able to help them get an apartment and find jobs,” according to the The Tampa Tribune.

As this county’s new program shows, sometimes a social problem like homelessness requires the community itself to seek a new path toward changing things for the better.

Head over to The Tampa Tribune for the full story.