Some Pasco residents don't want homeless center nearby

- Residents in Pasco County are debating the site of a new homeless center. The county wants to sell the old Boys and Girls Club, off Little Road in New Port Richey, to the Coalition for Homeless in Pasco County.

The group would buy the facility from the county on a 50-year mortgage and transform the building into a homeless navigation center, offering food, temporary housing and medical services to the county's homeless population.

"We're not looking to open a long-term shelter where we can institutionalize the homeless population. We don't want to take them in and keep them for years," said Rain Johns, chief executive officer for the coalition. "With the navigation center concept, we want to take them in, we want to get them services, we want to get them housing, with the idea that we'll be bringing them in and getting them out into stable housing and into the community within about 90 days."

At a public meeting held Wednesday afternoon at the County Government Center, residents spoke out both for and against opening the new homeless facility.

Some residents, along with business owners from the nearby Ridge Shopping Plaza, said they're concerned having a large homeless population nearby could bring problems.

"I'm concerned that if my customers see homeless people hanging out, panhandling in the shopping center, that they won't want to come into the shopping center," said Michelle Palisi, who owns a chocolate shop in the plaza.

Palisi said she is also concerned for her safety, and the safety of her staff, who often work late at night.

Johns explained to the crowd on Wednesday that the center would limit its number of occupants, only taking in 50 to 100 people at a time.

In a Pasco County homeless count done in February, county officials found an estimated 3,300 homeless individuals living in the county, more than 300 of them are veterans, which was disheartening for Dino Dibernardinis, who volunteered to help with the count.

"Being that I live here, these people are my neighbors. As a veteran, these people are my brothers and my sisters," Dibernardinis said.

"They're living on the streets, they're in encampments, they're living behind buildings, because we don't have a shelter for them. We're the only area, the only county, that doesn't have a shelter to take in the homeless," said Johns.

The county has already approved the use of the building as a navigation center. County officials will vote June 20 on a decision to provide funding for basic remodeling of the facility.

The coalition currently plans to use federal grants and a $100,000 donation for the United Way to fund the navigation center.

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