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Addressing Homelessness in Tampa: A Call to Action

Jerome Ryans headshot

Jerome D. Ryans, President & CEO - Tampa Housing Authority 
A quick drive around Tampa and you are bound to run into homeless people. It may be tempting to think that in America, the land of opportunity, people find themselves in that situation because of a lack of personal responsibility. However, in my experience in housing, I came to the realization that often in times a chemical dependence, a physical or mental disability are to blame. Regardless of what put so many people in that situation, as the President and CEO of the Tampa Housing Authority, I feel a profound responsibility to address the pressing issue of homelessness in our beloved community.  
My wish is that Tampa leaders would sharpen their focus and take meaningful steps to uplift the homeless population, providing them with the support and resources they need to rebuild their lives. Homelessness is a complex challenge that requires a comprehensive and compassionate approach. We must recognize that the homeless are not merely statistics; they are individuals with unique stories, facing various struggles. It is crucial for our community to foster empathy and understanding, acknowledging the inherent dignity of every person, regardless of their current circumstances. 
There is a myriad of shelter solutions that could be replicated in Tampa to alleviate homelessness, especially in the aftermath of the population boom brought by the pandemic that inflated housing costs to before unimaginable levels. Promoting stable and affordable housing is the cornerstone of addressing homelessness. The Tampa Housing Authority works tirelessly to expand affordable housing options, with the goal of ensuring that everyone in our community has a safe and secure place to call home. This includes targeted efforts to assist the elderly and disabled, who often face unique challenges in finding suitable housing, but so much more remains to be done.  
We need more community leaders and civic organizations vested in creating affordable housing period. Nonetheless, homelessness is a symptom of a complex social dynamic, to tackle it effectively, we must prioritize a multifaceted strategy that goes beyond short-term solutions, and addresses the problem at its roots. Starting with access to health services, which should be a fundamental human right. This includes mental health support, addiction treatment, and general healthcare services to address the diverse needs of the homeless population. Let me speak in a way that makes sense to people who oppose universal access to quality healthcare because of cost. Please consider that sick people cannot be productive, universal healthcare is necessary to make the bottom line work.  
Let's go a step further and think of equitable nutrition for kids. Children should not bear the brunt of homelessness, but even before that we must be committed to offering support programs that ensure equitable nutrition for children. This involves partnering with local schools, community centers, and food banks to provide nutritious meals and a supportive environment that fosters their well-being. They need more than lunch during school days. As a society, if we are failing to feed our children, how can we possibly succeed? 
Education is really key to promoting upward social mobility. Breaking the cycle of homelessness also requires empowering individuals with education and skills. As community leaders, we must collaborate with educational institutions, businesses, and nonprofits to create pathways for people to access attainable college education and vocational training. By investing in education, we can equip individuals with the tools they need to secure stable employment and rebuild their lives. 
It is essential for Tampa leaders to shift their focus toward long-term solutions that address the root causes of homelessness. This means fostering collaboration between government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and the community at large. By working together, we can create a more inclusive and compassionate Tampa that prioritizes the well-being of all its residents. 
In conclusion, the Tampa Housing Authority, under my leadership, is committed to spearheading initiatives that promote affordable housing. Our efforts are just a drop in the sea of needs our community faces. We cannot lose sight of the need for universal health services, equitable nutrition for children, and attainable college education. This is a call to action for those bothered by homelessness to approach it with empathy and determination. Together we can build a stronger and more compassionate Tampa for everyone. It's time for our community to unite in the pursuit of a brighter future for the most vulnerable.