TAMPA, Fla (WOFL FOX 35) - Law enforcement in Tampa claims Orlando is sending its homeless problem to Hillsborough County.
"I think each jurisdiction needs to step up and handle the problems in their own area, it's very easy to put someone on a bus, one-way ticket, and say 'good luck', and when they get on the other end, you've resolved your homeless issue, because they're no longer in your jurisdiction." said Colonel Greg Brown with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
The proverbial last straw came last month when employees of Goodwill Job Connection in Orlando bought a homeless woman and her small children bus tickets, sending them to Tampa. "There are resources in Orlando, just like there are here, but they didn't take the time to call their homeless resources in Orlando, and take care of the problem there. All they did was decide to put them on a bus and think that we were going to take care of them." said Deputy Stephanie Krager with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Krager, who heads up the homeless outreach program at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, says situations like this add an unwelcome strain to their own homeless problem in Tampa. "We're not going to put a family on the street; we're not going to leave them to sleep at the bus depot. On that situation, we had to pull all our resources. I had every deputy that I work with calling, plus the City of Tampa officers calling, to find a placement for this family." Dep. Krager said.
We requested an interview with Goodwill Job Connection in Orlando to get their side of the story. They sent us this statement: “Goodwill provides job training and placement services for people in need in our community, including many who are homeless. Last month, two of our employees purchased bus tickets to Tampa for a young homeless family in an attempt to find shelter for them. They acted on their own, and this action did not reflect official Goodwill policy. We work in close partnership with many homeless shelters in Orlando and regularly connect our clients with these organizations for additional resources and support. We have since addressed this situation with the employees involved to reinforce proper protocol.”
We asked the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to show us the numbers. Where's the proof that so many homeless in Tampa are coming from Orlando? They don't have those statistics, but they insist it is happening.
"A lot of times people arrive in this area, they said they were sent by bus to Hillsborough County or Tampa, and they're scared to death to say who sent them or why they were sent - and they can't explain why they're here." Col. Brown said.
Meanwhile, we reached out to homeless organizations in Orlando, who aren't convinced this is a regular occurrence. "I would not argue that it happens, if they're saying it happens. I'm not going to debate that. I am just saying that I don't know of a policy or practice, and we certainly don't have that kind of practice, that would move somebody arbitrarily out of our community just because they are homeless." said Brent Trotter with the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.
Andrae Bailey with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness believes the accusations from Tampa are ridiculous. "That couldn't be further from the truth." Bailey said.
He actually went so far as to produce a YouTube video to respond. "Our point was in that video that we absolutely are not sending our homeless to Tampa. We're trying to help them get into housing. We're spending millions of dollars to do that, and our point was that cities shouldn't blame each other for their problems, but they should work together to make great things happen for our region and for our state." said Bailey.
These claims from Tampa come at the same time a new survey finds the number of homeless people in metro Orlando has declined by almost a quarter in the past year.
We requested an interview with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. His office sent us this statement: "The City of Orlando has no policy or practice of routinely busing homeless people to Tampa here in Orlando. We are focused on using the same national strategies other cities are using to help our homeless on a path towards housing and stability here in our community."