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Homelessness Placed Back on the Front Burner

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Almost four months after a “Homeless Summit” in Pensacola brought together both government and private entities, it appears the issue is being revisited.

Much of the work has been on hold, since the mass exodus of top-ranking officials in Escambia County government, and the hiring of several people at Pensacola City Hall. At his weekly news conference Monday, Mayor Grover Robinson said a meeting was held earlier this month with new administrators: Chris Holley for the City of Pensacola, and Escambia County’s Janice Gilley.

“We also have agreed that perhaps the thing with a day center, and also doing a tiny home kind of village that would be transitory housing – it’s something we’re looking at,” said Robinson. “We think a lot of our partners will also solve this need, but we kind of want to shed something by example.”

Robinson is confident that a lot of their non-governmental partners will have a lot of solutions, such as building as many as 15-20 “tiny houses” for the homeless population. Some liken them to trailer parks, and while many don’t like that comparison, the Mayor says there are some common threads.

“It sort of provides the same function; they do provide smaller housing that would be more affordable if we could do something like that,” the Mayor said. “It is going to be something that’s going to be managed. You’re going to have to have somebody there, which is why we don’t feel like we can get a larger 15-20 units.”

The day center being kicked around would offer a number of services for the homeless on a daily basis through a partnership with the various non-profits.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson.

“We’re meeting with individuals to see which ones would be good, because every person is going to be a little different, so they might like a different home solution,” said Robinson. “It’s not ‘one size fits all.’ Not everyone’s going to fit in Waterfront Mission; not everyone’s going to fit in Richards Memorial [United Methodist Church]. Let’s just go in there, bring them all then figure out which one works for them, and kind of go through that process.”

Some of the other features of a day center would be a place to get out of extremely hot or cold weather; and perhaps work with partners who could provide meals on-site.

“I love that people are compassionate and they get meals for homeless; [but] I hate when they do it, and they take it to them on the side of the road and then it just gets all dumped and left,” Robinson said. “If you want to provide meals come to the day center. We believe that’s another function that could happen there.”

“What we would hope to do is to go around the table and give you two to three minutes to state your goals, your objectives – what do you see wrong, what do you see bad – and what can we do as a municipality or city or county to help,” said Escambia County Commission Chairman Lumon May, who along with Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson convened the “Homeless Summit” at the Pensacola Bay Center in early April.

“Grover [Robinson] and I – we’re never going to be service providers; but we can provide resources,” said May. “So we’d like to walk out of here knowing what can the city and county do together to help you, and have two to three goals. We’re not looking for a million; we’re just looking for two or three.”

But, Mayor Grover Robinson also adds that, while there are things government can to, there are other things out of its reach.

“Additional social workers, nor is it going to get into those kind of things,” said the Mayor. “While it’s certainly an identified task, we think the state – through its other agencies – is working much better at that than city-county. We believe the facilities and keeping up with the facilities having them there are things that we can do. And it’s all going to require a lot of partnership.”

According to figures from Waterfront Rescue Mission, roughly 800 people – men, women and children – are homeless in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties at any one time. Next door, the numbers are similar in Mobile and Baldwin Counties in Alabama.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.