In 2014, the City of Pensacola paid $30,000 to hire a consultant to make recommendations on how it could help the homeless in the community.
When a freeze iced over much of the city in January 2014, Mayor Hayward and the city drew international criticism for an ordinance that banned blankets in city park.
In his Feb. 7, 2014 “Upwords”, Hayward announced that he and Councilman Larry Johnson were working together to establish “an advisory committee on improving human services…comprised of professionals and advocates, tasked with collecting data and producing a set of fiscally-responsible, realistic, and actionable recommendations.”
When a resolution come forward to form the task force, Councilman Johnson said, “Tonight we’re trying to do the right thing. We had unanimous vote to look an ordinance and to tweak it, I look for this task force to look at all ordinances and tweak them. Thank you for very much my fellow council members.”
The resolution passed unanimously, and later the city council approved hiring Robert Marbut for $30,000 to work with local advocacy groups on recommendations. For some reason, he didn’t simply just recommend to repeal and replace the ordinances.
The final report made six recommendations. Two involved repealing and modifying ordinances dealing with downtown panhandling and the homeless, which were recommended by the mayor and former City Administrator Bill Reynolds and passed in 2013. Eventually the council did.
However, the other four that involved helping the homeless have been ignored and forgotten:
!) Move from a Culture of Enablement to a Culture of Engagement: The goal would be not merely serve the homeless, but help them “graduate” from the streets. The recommendation was to create a dignity awareness campaign. The LEAP meters are a step in that direction, but the city has done nothing on developing an active, on-going campaign.
2) Transform HMIS from a “Score Keeper Model” to a “Proactive Case Management Tool.” HMIS stands for Homeless Management Information System. There has been some movement towards this among the non-profits that help the homeless.
3) Increase the number of emergency housing units for families and children. Launch a fund-raising campaign to raise enough construction and operating dollars to expand the number of units.
4) Establish a True 24/7 “Come-As-You-Are” Service Center. Marbut suggested it be done at Waterfront Rescue Mission.
The task force even told the Mayor and City Council what should be its next steps for those recommendations:
a) Develop and implement an awareness campaign to educate and encourage the overall community to move from a Culture of Enablement to a Culture of Engagement.
b) Make funding to service agencies contingent upon being proactive participants in HMIS.
c) Explore feasibility of increasing the number of emergency housing units.
d) Explore feasibility a 24/7 “Come-As-You-Are” Service Center at the Waterfront Rescue Mission.
e) Modify code to accommodate emergency housing units for families with children.
The recent panhandling ordinance passed by the city council and endorsed by the mayor will be challenged in court by the ACLU. Former Council President Maren DeWeese and others believe the federal courts will strike it (Read more).
Mayor Hayward needs to dust off the report and revisit the recommendations. Doing nothing hasn’t worked.