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Tampa Housing Authority uses personal touch to make an impact on homelessness

According to a count conducted in February 2014, there are just over 2,200 homeless men, women and children in the Tampa area. Tampa Housing Authority is doing its part to eradicate this through individual outreach and assessment.

The Housing Authority manages affordable housing and support services to help Tampa residents achieve economic self-sufficiency. Recently, the agency asked staff member Patricia Wingo to conduct outreach to get to know Tampa’s homeless population on a more personal level. Wingo spends three to four hours per day talking to individuals and learning their stories, including how they came to be homeless and the best way to help them.

"She has fallen in love with going out and talking to the homeless," says Lillian Stringer, director of public relations for Tampa Housing Authority. "She knows them by name. She tells their story."

Wingo has heard some remarkable stories, like Monsita a 53-year old woman who earned a Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology. A medical condition has left her homeless for the past six years. There’s also Samuel, who after working for 20 years was not able to receive social security benefits because his company didn’t take out taxes. Or Crystal, a wife and mother of 10. She and her husband worked for the same company and became homeless when they unexpectedly lost their jobs.

Wingo uses an assessment called the Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI SPDAT) a screening tool which determines each person’s mental state and helps place them into the necessary programs. At first, she found she wasn’t trusted by the homeless and received comments like "you’re just gonna do like everybody else does…nothing." They’re learning that she’s proving them wrong. In all, she has assessed 20 people thus far and placed them on a wait list for housing.

The personal outreach and assessment, as well as other re-housing programs, were made possible by a $60,000 Federal Emergency Solutions Grant.

The Housing Authority recently participated in a nationwide program called 25 Cities Initiative, a national program aimed at assisting 25 cities with ending veteran and chronic homelessness. The program helps train staff to conduct assessments and coordinates other services.

On November 1, a 5K run will be held in Gadsden Park in Tampa, with proceeds benefitting families receiving assistance through the homeless programs. Funding will provide the families with housing, food, blankets and housewares.

Tampa Housing Authority works with a number of local partners, including the City of Tampa’s Affordable Housing Office, Tampa Crossroads, Metropolitan Ministries, Catholic Charities, the Veterans Administration, Francis House and Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.
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