Sunday, January 12, 2014

Homeless youth in America:Do we understand the behavioral nuances?

There is much to be said and even more to learn about what makes our homeless youth in America tick. And, we have to start with the assumption that notwithstanding their complicated even wretched past they have accepted homelessness as an adaptable option for their residential instability. Once this boundary has been crossed this new and forsaken lifestyle conditions a survival mindset -- and the arch nemesis to recovery is now exposed.

Youth living on the streets rarely deliberate options in future tense; thus, planning for the long term. The very nature of street survival is the here and now -- where will my next meal come from and where will I sleep tonight? The preference for smaller yet immediate outcomes is the most natural of human survival instincts and the adversary to delayed gratification for much larger but lingering rewards such as getting off the streets.

If a homeless youth is faced with two immediate yet conflicting opportunities such as spending his day scrapping metal from a construction site he stumbled upon or keeping an appointment with a case manager that may help him off the streets he will likely opt for the immediate reward of scrapping metal for proceeds to get him through the day. Considering this behavioral nuance how do we work around the rigid corporate culture of scheduled appointments if our devoted resolve is to help these youthful folks who don't carry so much as a watch.

Our first priority in developing any homeless youth recovery strategy should be in designing a system that accommodates the consumer we are trying to help instead of designing a system that accommodates the provider that is administering the system. If we should steadfastly live, work and breathe the same mantra: "if the homeless youth fails then we have failed, if the homeless youth succeeds the we have succeeded"we will properly realign our objectives with formulating a homeless youth recovery strategy that inherently works every time.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Monday, December 23, 2013

Homeless teens consider smart phone as important as food

Study finds 62 percent have cell phones; potential to use technology to reduce homelessness, professor says

For teens without a home, paying the monthly subscription to a data plan for their smart phone is just as important as eating or a drug habit, according to Eric Rice of the USC School of Social Work, whose study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Urban Health.
Rice sees potential in using existing technology to extend the safety net for homeless youth. Social media and cell phones are tools rarely used today, in part because it was not known if, or how many, children without a home or a job could access the internet.
“Homeless youth are not hopeless cases,” said Rice, the lead author on the study. “They don’t have to be lost.”
Homeless youth are different from many homeless adults in that the teens have fewer mental and substance abuse problems that may be hurdles to getting off the streets and returning to a more stable environment, Rice said. Staying in touch provides more opportunities to find a stable home.
“Cell phones have changed what it means to be a homeless teen as these youth can look for help beyond the streets,” Rice said. “If you don’t have to steal to get a meal, the chances of you going to jail decrease.”
The study, “Cell Phone Use Among Homeless Youth: Potential for New Health Interventions and Research” found:
   • 62 percent of homeless youth own a cell phone.
   • 51 percent use cell phones stay connected to friends from home and 41 percent connect to their parents.
   • 36 percent use the phone to call current or potential employers.
This study is Rice’s fourth in an ongoing look at teen homelessness. He earlier found that 85 percent find a way online, either though the phone, libraries or youth agencies.
Similar studies on a smaller scale have replicated the findings in Denver and New York.
Alex Lee and Sean Taitt of USC were co-authors on the study.
The National Institute of Mental Health provided funding for this study.

Contact: Eddie North-Hager at (213) 740-9335 or .

Almost homeless, 74-year-old vet benefits from outreach

Published:    |   Updated: December 21, 2013 at 11:59 PM

TAMPA — Daniel Byrne was in a bad way earlier this month. He was living on $600 a month from his part-time job at a car wash, staying in a dilapidated house without heat.
At 74, he was on the verge of homelessness.
His situation has improved dramatically, thanks to the Homeless Veterans Outreach at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, and a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputy who took a personal interest in helping out a U.S. Army veteran.
Byrne's home was drafty and dirty, and the circuit breaker would blow when he turned on the heat. He lived on the modest salary that comes with a part-time job at a car wash on Dale Mabry Highway, where he had worked since the 1980s, he said.
He has lived in Tampa for 40 years and gets around town on buses.
“The guy worked his heart out; he wasn't even aware of Social Security,” said Bruce Roberts, a social worker with Homeless Veterans Outreach. “He's 74 and he's still working at a car wash. I told him, 'You need to apply for Social Security. You're of age. It should have kicked in at 62.' ”
“I wasn't too familiar with all that,” Byrne said.
Roberts arranged for a ride for Byrne to the Social Security Administration building earlier this month.
“Come to find out, he's eligible and he even qualified for six months of back pay,” Roberts said. “Now, he's getting $1,400 a month and a new place to live. Someone donated furniture, too.”
Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Stephanie Krager, who has helped Byrne for the past three weeks, has forged a friendship with the veteran and gave him a lift to the veterans hospital Thursday because he wasn't feeling well and didn't show up for work, a rarity.
Among the obstacles that were overcome this month:
“Social Security would only pay Daniel if he had a bank account,” she said. He had never had a bank account. She took him to a local bank, which helped him open an account where he could deposit the Social Security checks.
An accountant who works with homeless veterans has volunteered to oversee Byrne's account, do shopping for him and take care of his financial needs, Krager said.
Last week, Krager helped Byrne move into his new apartment at Rocky Creek Village.
When he's not working, he sleeps, does laundry and shops for groceries, he said. He doesn't know if he still has family in his home state of Wisconsin, but now he might just begin to look, he said.
His plans for the future?
“I'll probably go back to work,” he said. “I feel great.”
(813) 259-7760

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Homeless youth in Hillsborough County: Do we understand the problem?

If you saw a homeless youth walking the streets of Hillsborough County what would be the peculiar characteristics that led you to believe your assumption of homelessness was accurate? Typically we associate homelessness with tattered clothing, overgrown facial hair and overt exhibitions of panhandling and consumption of high octane lager. Is this what you saw in the presumed homeless youth?

Homeless youth are generally classified as young adults and adolescents between the ages of 13 and 24 and bear hidden behavioral traits that likely make them more elusive when compared to the anticipated images of the greater homeless sub-population. Adding to the problem of self-identification there is limited research and data within this specialized field of homelessness making it difficult to properly understand their true behavioral traits or capture accurate census data.

The severity and relevance of almost every social problem that contributes to blight and despair in our communities is often a perception measured by what we can see and what we talk about. 

And, to answer the introductory question regarding the peculiar characteristics that led you to identify the homeless youth -- there is no legitimate answer. 

How can I explain this?

Since the homeless youth conversation on the national, regional and even local level simply hasn't spilled over reaching a critical mass of awareness -- piercing the social boundary of public sentiment -- the problem doesn't exist in the conscious minds of the average consumer. And, without a conscious mind outraged at the despair of homeless youth living on the streets of our city it's highly unlikely anyone of us could identify their personal behavioral characteristics -- peculiar or otherwise.

In the weeks and months that will follow the Homeless Youth Task Force will begin to tackle some of these inherent problems in locating, identifying and rehabilitating homeless youth from the streets of our communities. It's an effort with little historical precedent and many unforeseen challenges.

However, the mustard seed of a beginning strategy leads us to believe that even homeless youth maintain their youthful social networks. And, it's these youthful networks that very likely could be the intermediary and informational conduit connecting an isolated homeless youth in need with the right people who are prepared to help.

I'm interested in your input and insight on the topic of locating, identifying and assisting homeless youth. Feel free to connect with me at

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033


Saturday, May 18, 2013

What's the latest with the Homeless Initiative?

 You may have noticed we have been a little quiet with social media lately and we hope the absence has made the heart grow fonder. But, the Homeless Initiative and the District III Sheriff's Office have been busier then ever behind the scenes to bolster our street engagement homeless recovery efforts.

I'm proud to announce and introduce Deputy Stephanie Krager who has become my collaborative partner both behind the scenes and on the streets of our community.

Deputy Krager has been the Crisis Intervention Coordinator for the Sheriff's Office and she has held this title for more than eight years now. Deputy Krager brings a learned skill to the table with addressing the mental health component that overlaps with homeless recovery.  As of April 1st we have comingled our specialized skills to provide a more complete and thorough assessment when evaluating the individual complications that sometimes hinder recovery from homelessness. For the past eight years she has established relationships with the mental health community and patiently navigated a more streamlined approach that allows those in need of mental health intervention to be able to connect to services.

We have been working together on the streets in your communities addressing some of the most lingering concerns with both homeless plight and mental health issues. Deputy Krager and myself don't have an office and that's how we like it -- problems that exist on the street have to be solved on the street. Recently, we met up with five homeless candidate's at a McDonald's restaurant within Town N' Country to put into action their exit strategy that will soon get them on the road to recovery. It's these types of images that tell the story of the work we perform to help make our community a better place to live and help people resolve personal problems they may not otherwise know how to solve on their own. 

More recently we have blurred the organizational lines amongst agencies within Hillsborough County that traditional don't work together. The Homeless Initiative and Tampa Police Homeless Liaison now sit together at the table with the Public Defender's Office to help identify high profile cases of homelessness.

Did you know that one homeless man in Hillsborough County has been arrested a startling 87 times? It's an example of the revolving door of justice that never gets slammed shut. Working closely with Marie Marino and Lorenzo Anderson with the Public Defenders Office we now flag these persistent cases of homelessness; and, when the outcome is incarceration -- the Homeless Initiative intervenes with the cooperation of the judicial system to coordinate an exit strategy from the point of incarceration to transitional living off the streets.

 Navigating the institutional homeless recovery system when your in a state of despair can be overwhelming for the average homeless client. Our approach has become more comprehensive and systematic. From the first contact on the street to the final conclusion of recovery we follow each client through the maze of government assistance. Having hands-on experience with social service programs our clients aren't left to their own fate. It has become a one-on-one relationship that attempts to break their isolation, build their self esteem, and sometimes kick them in the pants when they need a little more encouragement.

Our next Homes of Second Chances project is waiting on the side line and if we can pull it off I believe it will be an impressive accomplishment as this unique, even unorthodox, rehousing model gains steam. We have met with a number of agencies within the county to find the right audience to support the fundamental strategy for self sustainable rehousing. Although the outcome always remains in limbo when you think out of the box our next residential project is essentially a residential compound comprising three main houses with 12 individual units and almost 10,000 square feet of living space.

So, as you can see we have been busy both behind the scenes and on the streets and without  your support we wouldn't be able to do it on our own. It takes an entire community to solve some of these most enduring problems that tear at the fabric of our society.

Thanks for being patient with the updates and we look forward to sharing more of the continued successes with the Homeless Initiative very soon.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Thursday, December 13, 2012

By KEITH MORELLI | The Tampa Tribune

The philosophy at Homes of Second Chances is to save one homeless person at a time, but the program might soon be able to do more than that.

Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Steven Donaldson heads the department's homeless initiative. The program follows a simple model: Get someone who owns a vacant home to turn it over for a year.

During that time, a couple of well-vetted homeless people are housed there; in return for their lodging, they help renovate the home with donated materials.

After a story about the project appeared in The Tampa Tribune on Dec. 7, Donaldson heard from a couple in Pasco County who owns three contiguous parcels in Seminole Heights. The property has three full-size houses and some smaller apartments. In all, the parcels can house a dozen people.

The property has been vacant for three years, Donaldson said.

"I was obviously encouraged, in fact enthusiastic, that these people are out there finding me," he said. The property has been in the family since 1927 and is owned free and clear, he said.

The property is in relatively good shape, he said.

"We toured only a portion of it," he said. "It needs some cosmetic renovations, but structurally, it looks very, very sound."

Donaldson's project has three houses already in use that have taken the homeless off the streets, he said. He knows there are vacant houses throughout the city and county that are falling into disrepair and could be of use.

Such homeowners are "a demographic out there that is untapped," he said.

Donaldson's two-year attack on homelessness is designed to save one person at a time from the streets. There's nothing big about the process and no bureaucracy. It's just Donaldson and some volunteers.

Not every homeless person is a good fit for the project. Donaldson screens candidates and puts them through a "boot camp" before they are chosen to participate.

Anyone interested in Homes of Second Chances can contact Donaldson at (813) 259-7760

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Friday, December 7, 2012

Deputy helping homeless help themselves

Arms folded, Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Steven Donaldson watched as the mini-blinds went up in the house on East Linebaugh Avenue. The house had languished in disrepair for years in the Castle Heights neighborhood, but now it was not only occupied, it was being fixed up.

Homes of Second Chances was working, and gaining ground.

In the program spearheaded by Donaldson to help the homeless, the business model is simple. Get people who own run-down, vacant homes to "loan" the property to the project for one year. In return, the houses are renovated for free and become homes for previously homeless men, who work on the renovation for the first year.

After that year passes, the rehabbers begin paying rent, as much as they can afford.

Materials are donated, as is some labor on bigger renovation jobs, Donaldson said.

He has mounted his attack on homelessness by trying to help one person at a time. There's nothing big or grandiose about the process, and virtually no bureaucracy. It's just Donaldson and some volunteers.

Donaldson has been with the sheriff's office for 18 years and now heads up the sheriff's homeless initiative. It's a path that began a couple of years ago when, as a road patrol deputy, he was asked to handle the panhandling problem in Town 'N Country.

 There, he saw that homelessness was taxing government, charitable and law enforcement resources, and came up with the idea for Homes of Second Chances.

The Linebaugh Avenue home is the third donated to the initiative. The rundown house sat vacant for three years, Donaldson said, and was inhabited by "uninvited homeless" before it was turned over to the project.

Now, new floors have been put in and the walls scraped, sanded and painted. The porch got new railings and steps.

"Eighty percent of the work is done by the guys who live here," Donaldson said. "It's all about rehabilitation. It's a chance for these people to show what they're made of.

"I'm not a homeless advocate," he said. "I'm an advocate for solving problems."

Ricky Jones and Wilbern Leonard now live in the two-bedroom, one-bath house and were putting up mini-blinds on Thursday.

Leonard was homeless for about a year, destitute as he waited for disability checks to start coming in, when he heard about Donaldson's project.

"This means a lot," he said as he handed Jones a level to make sure the blinds were just right. "You're doing the work; you're putting the sweat into it. And you know it's going to be your house. That in itself is worth it."

Not everyone is a good fit, Donaldson said. He screens candidates and puts them through a "boot camp" before they are chosen to participate. So far, all have passed muster, and more than 100 people have benefited from the program in one way or another over the past couple of years, he said.
He said his experience as a law enforcement officer gives him the ability to know by talking with someone whether they will fit with the goals of the program.

They must be willing to work and not blame others for their homelessness.

"I monitor the projects," Donaldson said. "If at the end of six months there is no progress, they get a kick in the pants."

Anyone interested in Homes of Second Chances can contact Donaldson at
The initiative is being watched by homeless advocates in the county.

"Deputy Donaldson is passionate about what he is doing," said Edi Erb, interim director of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County.

"A critical part to ending homelessness is engaging people who have been living on the streets a long time, many frustrated with the system and how they have been treated," she said. "Deputy Donaldson is talking with people who are homeless, listening and connecting people with solutions. And in the process, he is engaging the community."

Pete McDonald lives nearby and pulled into the front yard Thursday afternoon.

The house "had been an eyesore," he said. When he first noticed work being done, "I thought it was a crime scene, with the patrol car parked there. I stopped, and Deputy Donaldson explained the program to me and what he was trying to do."

He said neighbors are behind the project.

"This takes a problem away and puts somebody who needs a home in a home," he said. "It's a good idea."

Help us tell the story of your Hometown Hero

We're looking for everyday people who help others in ways big and small, motivated only by kindness and a desire to make our community a better place.

Send your nominee's name and a brief description of his or her selfless acts to Hometown Heroes, Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 191, Tampa, FL, 33601. Or go to, search: Hometown 
Heroes, to fill out an online form.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033

Thursday, November 29, 2012

North Tampa's revival is slow, but that's OK

Just a few hours after Mayor Bob Buckhorn's announcement Tuesday of a large-scale plan for the transformation of downtown Tampa, I was riding with City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione in a part of the city that could use a little love.
While Buckhorn touted a rebuilt urban core with new high-rises, a completed Riverwalk, festivals and upscale places to live, Montelione couldn't wait to show me the new drainage project not far from the University of South Florida. It will help ease chronic flooding problems in the area.
As we drove over streets badly in need of repaving, past several abandoned homes with weed-choked yards, she would occasionally point at daisies popping up through the blight.
"See there?" she said, pointing at a well-kept house. "That looks nice. And that one over there looks nice, too."
* * * * *
It has to start somewhere, and in areas like Terrace Park and the neighborhoods around Busch Gardens it might mean something as basic as flood control and streets that don't wreck your car's suspension."Having infrastructure in place for any community is the foundation of success," she said. "If the streets flood, the roads deteriorate. If the roads deteriorate, housing values fall. If housing values fall, people move out and abandon the area."
Besides the basic neighborhood necessities of better streets, parks, sidewalks, streetlights and flood control, there has to be a long-range plan to lift the area. Leaders have been talking about that for a while, including the creation of high-tech jobs around USF.
From 6 to 8 tonight, Montelione and Buckhorn will hold an open house at the Gwazi Pavilion at Busch Gardens to talk about those plans. The planning commission has been talking with neighborhood residents and business leaders about what they want. Tonight, they'll reveal the results of those surveys.
* * * * *
There is no quick fix, though. That much became clear as we continued our drive before stopping at 15th Street and Linebaugh Avenue when Montelione spotted sheriff's Deputy Steven Donaldson. He was outside a two-bedroom home where workers were busy hammering, nailing and generally fixing up the place.Donaldson's job with the sheriff's office involves reaching out to the homeless. That's how he found the men working on this house. One was in a cold-weather shelter, another was begging by a roadside. The house they were working on had been abandoned.
The deal is the men do the work, under supervision of another formerly homeless man who has construction skills. They use donated material and when the job is done, they can live there rent-free for a year as they transition back to the workforce. It helps the men and removes an eyesore from the neighborhood.
There isn't a magic wand that will make it better overnight, but revival is starting. 
It's a slow-go that will take years to complete, but it's starting. Think of it as a mosaic, being stitched together one street, one house and one life at a time. 
That's the way it works in North Tampa.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033
North Tampa's revival is slow, but that's OK

Friday, November 23, 2012

$3 Billion dollars later homeless youth on the rise

I often heard his name and gathered reports of his parking lot appeals — humbly posturing for dollar bills in shopping center lots. But, several weeks would pass before I would first meet the homeless 21 year-old young man named Jesse.

It seems for almost five years Jesse’s homelessness went largely unnoticed until more recently when he became the fixture of accounts as stories of the unkempt young man repeatedly filled my voicemail and email box with near sightings. Even for the fleeting passerby the forsaken exploits of squandered youthfulness rarely goes unnoticed before someone picks up a phone.

 It would be a mid-afternoon in August before I first stumbled upon the likes of Jesse’s description in a disheveled persona walking down a Town N’ Country Street. He darted out of view and it was the police instinct that hunted him down feasting inside a Burger King dining room. Most in a state of homelessness are a little distant when confronted by the police without warning —"Are you Jesse?" it was obvious that he thought twice before responding to my question and when he did his answer came across as defensive.

I introduced myself, “I’m Deputy Donaldson,” and with this announcement there was a sign of relief with his response, “You’re Deputy Donaldson … I’ve been looking for you!” Little did he know that this chance encounter would be the first day that would begin his recovery from the streets.

What saved Jesse from what may have been a life of homelessness is a term we now call street engagement and it is augmented by a modified expression of the long arm of the law. Jesse was homeless for almost five years simply because as a wayward homeless youth on the streets he was left to his own devices without interruption. As it stands right now, by default from a lack of better options, we fully expected Jesse and other homeless youths like him to solve his own problems knowing that his best work got him into this predicament in the first place.

 Many would argue that Jesse is the victim of life’s social ills and perhaps being the product of a wretched and disadvantaged upbringing. And, you may be right on all of these accounts but sympathy by itself won’t solve any of Jesse’s problems — and, sympathy by itself without disruption of his current pattern of behavior could and will make Jesse’s problems much worse. 

The most compelling argument should be the more obvious one considering how long Jesse remained on the streets unfettered and unrestrained: regardless of the homeless recovery mechanism of assistance deployed, regardless of how much money is spent on federal, state, and local programs to help people like Jesse off the streets — if we don’t unearth these homeless youth from their unconstrained slumber and anonymity — if we don’t find them, engage them, and redirect them, we will never be able to help them get off the streets.

We should all accept the fact that there will never be enough money, otherwise known in institutional and non-profit parlance as funding, to solve all of our problems. Since 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that almost $3 Billion dollars is spent annually on federal homeless programs and the fight to end homelessness is nowhere in sight. 

Homeless assistance agencies will never have the required funding to provide the girth of street outreach to make even a dent in the size and scope of our homeless population. So, it’s time to consider some legitimate options that have  more logistical appeal based on the resources that we already have at our disposal.

Could the long arm of the law become an expression for homeless recovery and assistance?

 One of Hillsborough County’s most “incorrigible” homeless men has been arrested a startling eighty times since 1996 which has obvious implications with the associated burden on local county services. Without having to do the math it should be clear that law enforcement agencies already have skin in the game with a seemingly accidental vested interest with the likes of this one man living on the streets. Law enforcement agencies across our nation exhausting assets on similar contributors of blight have a simple business decision to make: would you invest a nickel of your resources to help this same man off the streets to save a dollar in expenses that you would otherwise exhaust when we arrest him more than eighty times?

The appropriate answers should come to us without question when we are headed into a steeper decline of belt tightening and budget cuts. Helping a homeless youth like Jesse and other men and women experiencing similar plight is not only deference to duty as public servants but it is also a resounding and solvent business decision in these fiscally uncertain times.

Efficient and successful homeless recovery is more about establishing relationships through street engagement that thoughtfully disrupts and realigns a wayward soul redirecting them individually towards a path of self sufficiency.

Beyond my beat-cop salary it should prove interesting that this method costs us virtually nothing.

In contrast, conventional and standardized efforts mandate funding the many locks and levers of institutional programs that first require supportive infrastructure and layered management before the first candidate is offered help. I’m certain there is a productive outcome to this mesmerizing madness but if a homeless candidate should successfully navigate the labyrinth of social assistance the follow-up question should be, when compared to the expense: what was the margin of success? 

We have discovered the iconic imagery of the nostalgic beat cop has many problem solving virtues that we can exploit to better our communities and the people within them — but, only if we wield our perceived authority in the right direction and for the right purpose. The young man named Jesse passed through the conventional and standardized system to no avail and landed back on the streets where he fell back in my lap.

Jesse's ultimate success only proves to me that we will not likely be able to buy our way out of our current homeless epidemic so we better start becoming a lot more creative with the resources we already have and spend a lot less money on air-conditioned office space. 

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tony with Tampa's Clean City Division Jumps on Board Homes of Second Cha...

Tony is a supervisor with Tampa's Clean City Division. When I first met Tony he thanked the Help Cops Help Us Team for finally cleaning up the Linebaugh Ave home. "It's been an eyesore for more than three years," he said. "We would drive by it almost every day and have to pick up trash accumulated in the front yard."

Tony's remarks are testament that vacant and abandoned homes contribute to blight in the neighborhood. Homes of Second Chances not only restores the lives of the men that are enlisted to fix them up, but it also revitalizes the neighborhood and empowers the community all at the same time!


Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Published on Nov 1, 2012 by HCCHawkTV

Hawk TV's Ryan French explores "Homes of Second Chances" and "Youth Aiding Youth." These initiatives help get the homeless off the streets and are led by Deputy Steven Donaldson his son Brent, who is an HCC student.

For more information:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

TAMPA (FOX 13) - Wilbern Leonard never thought he'd have a house to call his own. For a year, he lived on the streets.

"I didn't think it'd happen. I thought I'd be one of those people that, the concrete jungle gets ahold of you and the next thing you know, you're in trouble."

But instead, Deputy Steve Donaldson got a hold of him. He's with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and known as the 'Homeless Deputy.'

Two years ago, he started a homeless iInitiative. It's called Homes of Second Chances.
"The philosophy is successful," explained Deputy Donaldson. "When we take people off the street, when does rehabilitation begin. It begins the moment we put them under a roof."
The homes are not in foreclosure. Most are vacant homes.

"The moment it's vacant, people start vandalizing it, moving in, stealing air conditioning, which is what happened here," Donaldson continued. "They steal the water heater, which is what happened here."

He got the homeowner, Jane Keys, to lend them the house. It's been vacant for three years. Deputy Donaldson brought in companies to renovate. Team Home Depot brought all the supplies and some manpower. ARS donated the entire air conditioning system.

"It's a zero-cost project. There's not a dime that is affecting the tax-paying citizens," Donaldson said.
Wilbern can't wait until the house is finished.

"I think it's just the greatest thing that this house is going to be remodeled. And not only that, I'm going to be living in it."

It's the fourth house renovated and occupied by a former homeless person. They can live in the house for up to a year, rent-free. But at that point, Deputy Donaldson says they have to show some forward movement, they have to show progress, that they're working to get back on their own two feet.
Albert Swiger is the poster child for turning your life around. For most of his life, Albert was a drain on society.

"I have over 200 arrests, not something I'm proud of," he admitted.

He met Deputy Donaldson when he was holding a "Will Work for Food" sign along Hillsborough Avenue and the Veterans Expressway. The deputy decided to take a chance on Albert, and Albert is thrilled he did.

"It's a blessing. To go home and take a shower, stuff like that, go to the refrigerator, get a cold drink, cook something hot to eat, having a bed to sleep in."

Jane Keys says it's a win for her too. She get a renovated house and as soon as he can, her new tenant will start paying rent.

"I just couldn't get on top of it, it just kept getting worse and worse."

Wilbern can't wait to get in and start up his love for cooking.

"It's going to be a blessing to, instead of opening a can of beans or some ravioli and eat it cold, it's going to be nice to go back to cooking again."

For more information, check out Deputy Donaldson's Facebook page: