Bay County Homeless Community Deliberation Series

In 2010, the Bay County Homeless Community Deliberation Series brought a wide spectrum of interests together to review the status of services in Bay County and the news coverage it achieved raised our collective consciousness regarding the problems of poverty within this community.

Excerpt from the annual CAPER report (CDBG and SHIP Funds) 2010/2011:

On September 28, 2010, residents brainstormed over ways to address the homeless situation in Panama City.

About 180 people attended the summit, one of several meetings scheduled in what’s called the Bay County Homeless Community Deliberation Series. There were three follow-up meetings scheduled to discuss progress on addressing issues identified during the summit.

Attendees identified facilities, vagrancy, rehabilitation, transportation, employment, housing, resource development and fundraising as areas that need to be addressed. Throughout the meetings, a number of suggestions were made to address problems associated with homelessness. Often, though, the ideas were for services already offered by local organizations. For instance, when a homeless man complained that it’s difficult to get around town by foot and asked why trolley passes can’t be made available, a representative from Catholic Charities raised her hand to say the organization provides passes. Similar scenarios played out throughout the deliberations with suggestions that there should be an organization
that helps coordinate agencies — The Hunger & Homeless Coalition fills that need — and that there should be a database available that agencies can access to find out about resources in the community — the United Way provides that.

Most people who spoke suggested faith is an essential element to address the homelessness. One woman even suggested prayer as a necessary strategy. Other proposals included building more transitional housing, assigning caseworkers to the homeless to make sure they received the help they need, coordination with veterans services groups, making job training available and offering treatment to those with medical problems, mental illness and addiction.

The problem is trying to find funding and broad community support for ideas. There are great ideas, but finding funding to make those ideas a reality is another issue.
It was suggested vacant buildings owned by government organizations could be converted for use as homeless shelters or transitional housing. It requires substantial funding, though, and there are ongoing costs.

Average number of people eating each day at the Panama City Rescue Mission:
2010 – 402
2011 – 617
Increase: 53.6 %

Average number of people sleeping in the overflow nightly at the Panama City Rescue Mission in the winter months:
Winter Months 2009 – 24
Winter Months 2010 – 53
Increase: 120.83%

Number of new homeless Panama City Rescue Mission served
2009 – 607
2010 – 893
Increase: 47%

City of Panama City, Federal Funding, Community Development Block Grant for a Street Outreach Social Worker to assist the homeless off the City’s streets into temporary shelters: $26,000