Fla. lawmakers work to help homeless

Lawmakers hope bills in House, Senate can fund challenge grants

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida has the third-highest homeless population in the country, which has caused lawmakers to want to invest in getting people back on their feet.

There are more than 47,000 homeless people in Florida on any given night. Lawmakers in Florida are now trying to pump money into grant programs to reduce homelessness.

"In my own county, in Pinellas, we spend a lot of money on homelessness, but we really don't appear to have a program that pulls in the shelter aspect as well as the assistance and training," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Pinellas County.

Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters hope that their bills in the House and Senate can fund challenge grants. The grants would help provide housing and other services for the homeless.

Peters said that the problem extends to every age group.

"Children are the highest population among the homeless, so we have kids couch-surfing and just surviving out on the streets and we need to take care of them," said Peters, R-St. Petersburg.

Even though Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed similar proposals in the past, the bill's sponsors are confident that these programs are a hand up and not a handout.

The bill would provide expanded grants based to communities that would locally match the money. Latvala said this program is different from ones Scott has vetoed; it focuses on job placement and other programs to teach life skills.

"Just opening a center where people can come at 6 o'clock at night until 6 o'clock in the morning to hang out is a Band-Aid approach," said Latvala.

The grant programs were eliminated from the state budget during the recession. The goal of the challenge grant money is to get people into their own housing.

"Who one day will have a much better quality of life and will save our community dollars when they come in to their own housing," said Susan Person, of the Florida Homeless Coalition.

Latvala and Peters said they crafted the bill after programs already in place in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The bill also directs funding to the Department of Children and Families to distribute and establish homeless programs.

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