Homeless Shelters: The Right Way and the Wrong Way

Note: I am specifically referring to plans to open a navigation center shelter in New Port Richey, FL, however the concepts I discuss also apply to other communities.

Opening a homeless shelter will usually involve compromise. It may with the physical plant, funding levels, expected outcomes, or in this situation, the location.

Building a shelter from scratch is challenging due to costs. So alternatives (usually re-tasking an existing building)  have to be evaluated. In this case, a vacant boys and girls club was chosen, creating the classic NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) response.

This is common, almost expected, when there is a less-than-desirable-but-necessary project. This can be a shopping mall, homeless shelter or even a nuclear reactor.

Four out of five Pasco County Commissioners voted to support (i.e. fund) this project. I spoke in favor of it at a recent public hearing.

The commission could have chosen the politically safer route of opposing the project (or even tabling the discussion) however but they chose the courageous (i.e. possible vote losing) route, indicating they are serious about ending homelessness in Pasco County.

As with most things in life, there are the right way and the wrong way to do things. Pasco chose to use the navigation center model which was developed in San Francisco. This model is housing-focused and successful if done correctly.

An example of a bad shelter model is Pinellas Safe Harbor. This model is a money pit and has a success rate in the single digits (both percentage and actual numbers of clients housed). The statistics are readily available online so I won’t bother with them here.

Had Pasco County chosen a come-as-you-are, jail diversion shelter similar to PSH, I would not have hesitated to oppose it (something is not always better than nothing).

In summary, Pasco County had three choice:

1) Do nothing;
2) The right way; or
3) The wrong way

They performed their due diligence and, out of the three options I listed, are getting into the shelter business the right way. I applaud the commission for putting the needs of the community ahead of their need for votes.