In a recent letter to the editor, The Heartland Coalition for the Homeless Continuum of Care Chair Fred Schilffarth was critical of government when it comes to helping the homeless. Over the past year and a half, the county has taken a much closer look at how those who have found themselves homeless are being assisted and cared for. The county held a roundtable with leaders across the county; every county commissioner was present, city leaders from Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid, the president and vice president of South Florida State College, and individuals from local houses of worship all gathered to hear from several agencies providing assistance to the homeless population in our community.

From that roundtable, a taskforce was formed to continue the action items identified at the roundtable. In addition to the taskforce, the county donated six lots to the Hope Haven organization for the purpose of building tiny homes for the homeless. Staff from three different departments aided Hope Haven’s executive director in the property surplus process.

While city and county governments might not be currently spending funding on caseworkers, there are agencies assisting the homeless with case managers, such as Hands for the Homeless; and federal dollars coming in to the county, via The Heartland Coalition For the Homeless. Those federal dollars fund the administrative salaries for the Coalition’s employees who are assisting homeless in applying for Permanent Supportive Housing Grant Funding and Emergency Solutions Grant Funding, as shown on The Heartland Coalition for the Homeless’ website. While there can always be more resources available to our community, tax dollars are being spent on the homeless population in Highlands County and the county tries to be mindful in not duplicating services.

The solution to the problem is definitely community based but government is not always the answer. Here is a list of some of the agencies already working in our community: First Baptist Church of Sebring, New Testament Mission, Peace River Center’s Domestic Violence Shelter, Samaritan’s Touch, Hands for the Homeless and Hope Haven Transitional Housing. The county is trying to assist by bringing these community-based agencies together to help build on the amazing work they are already accomplishing.

Leah Sauls

Community Programs director

Highlands County Board of County Commission