Monday, April 30, 2012

WTSP 10 NEWS Covers Homeless Intiative

Tampa, Florida -- Deputy Steve Donaldson's passion is not only helping the homeless get off the streets, but also helping them find a place to live and get back on their feet. Donaldson points out there's more to helping the homeless than providing a blanket or hot meal.

While those things are helpful and necessary, he goes above and beyond. When addressing the homeless and panhandling issue, he says, "We are trying to change the landscape of the streets. Ultimately, we are doing this for the benefit of the community." He adds that safety is the number one focus.

On the day we met up with Donaldson, he helped a 61-year-old formerly homeless man get to a doctor's appointment. He's helped others get glasses and helped many find a place to call home.

"He shows up and helps me with my appointments and keeps me going in the right direction," says James Vanderhoff.

Vanderhoff has seen firsthand a large number of people he has helped. "I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for him. You know, I don't think I would have made it anywhere if it wasn't for him." 

 Here's how Donaldson describes the homeless initiative from his blog:

The Help Cops Help Us homeless initiative is a new problem-solving model centered on the root causes of homelessness. Its philosophy rests on the fundamental human principle that people, all people, will succumb to the human trait of inevitable behavior until intrigued or compelled to act differently.

The uniformed law enforcement officer is the epicenter of the street engagement model that uses a "coupling" technique, motivating each homeless candidate that becomes accountable to a singular and persistent mortal entity -- a street cop. The coupling effect is a two-pronged approach where candidates who resist assistance and rehabilitation, by default will receive the law enforcement prong when behavior exhibits a callous disregard with laws and a communities desire in maintaining a certain quality of life. 

The homeless candidate receives both direct and indirect assistance after a street assessment evaluates their individual needs and problems. We then solve their most basic problems so they may become self-sufficient.

We mend fences, rebuild character, solve their problems, then push them into the water where they are forced to learn how to swim again. When they are off the streets and into housing we continue to monitor and follow-up until we are certain they have become self sufficient for long term sustainability.

Deputy Donaldson was also named 2012 Law Enforcement Deputy of the Year. He was nominated because of his many achievements connected to the Homeless Initiative and its positive impact on our community.

You can also follow the deputy on Twitter at:!/HelpCopsHelpUs.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Follow Deputy Donaldson on Twitter While He Engages Homeless On The Street

Dr. Winkler helps homeless with renewed vision

Dep.Donaldson(left),Dr.Winkler(center),David Delpino(right)
She wears a crisp white lab coat and walks at a pace that's hard to follow. It was my first initiation with Dr. Ruth Winkler -- LensCrafters Doctor of Optometry, it reads in blue stitching across her cotton jacket. It's a professionally aesthetic reflection that compliments the esteem that comes with such charismatic generosity I soon found out.

Many months ago, my counterpart in homeless recovery, Deputy Jerry Andrews, stumbled upon Dr. Winkler as a resource for homeless clients in need of eye exams and prescription eye wear. They don't fill out applications, present insurance cards -- or asked for payment of any kind. When accompanied by a homeless recovery officer they simply get the help that is needed.

Late Friday afternoon, homeless client David Delpino became the latest recipient of Dr. Winkler's larger than life goodwill. Surviving in the thickets of homeless existence things take a beating -- much like Delpino's over-sized opticals did in a recent camp site misstep.

"I tried repairing the frame with epoxy glue." Delpino said. "But, it just didn't work."

Delpino has become one of our top notch recovery clients -- having made such a dramatic turnaround -- he has proven to me his motivation is sincere.  The Sheriff's Office Homeless Initiative rewards this forward momentum with a clear and convincing hand-up using private sector resources to fill the gaps when public resources are curtailed.

"I have never seen such a gracious staff, they even helped me pick-out a nice frame," Delpino said.

Dr. Winkler snuck-away in between waiting patients to capture the requested snap shot of her latest conclusion of altruism. Before I knew it she was gone again before I could pass off my business card -- as she faded into the distance of the examining rooms her staff whispers compliments about her:  "She just great to work for," one employee said.

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

Friday, April 27, 2012

It is with a deep sense of honor and humility ...

It is with a deep sense of honor and humility I announce that I have been selected the 2012 Law Enforcement Deputy of The Year. Recently, I was nominated for the achievements of the Homeless Initiative and its positive impact on our community and the many people that have been helped.

But, I didn't do it alone.

There are many of you that have worked quietly in the background with both financial contribution and spirited support -- it was this groundswell of benevolence that has made so much possible in such a short period of time.

I cannot thank you enough, but we have just begun to scratch below the surface. There was always a few detractors on the sideline that said  it couldn't be done -- and you have proven them all wrong.

I look forward to seeing you at the 18th Annual "Our Heroes Luncheon"  May 31, 2012,  12:00PM - 1:30PM , Tampa Convention Center where we can honor the many brave men and women in Hillsborough County's law enforcement and fire rescue.

Thank you.

Deputy Steven L Donaldson


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Help Cops Help Us: A Homeless Initiative: Luis a70-Year-Old Homeless Man

Help Cops Help Us: A Homeless Initiative: Luis a70-Year-Old Homeless Man: I wanted to start this post off with the most startling pictures instead of the usual rosy finish I prefer. But, only to drive home this po...

Tragic Consequences: Life On The Street For Vulnerable Seniors

Luis Romos, 70, Sleeping Under His Makeshift Homeless Camp (Left)

 Look for the latest developing story on Luis Romos, the 70-year-old homeless recovery story, tonight on Bay News 9 with Dalia Dangerfiled, and in tomorrows addition of the Tampa Bay Times with Jessica Vandervelde.

It's a compelling introspective detailing the street consequences of life without a home for some of our most vulnerable seniors.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Homeless Rob Bids Farewell To Homelessness

Without question Robert Rashford, aka: "Homeless Rob" to many of his online followers, has been one of my most interesting homeless recovery students. I recall meeting Rashford Christmas morning at Wesely Memorial Church Fellowship Hall. Among the many local homeless he was the new face in town -- and with my ear to the ground -- I usually hear about these new faces long before I meet them.

In the handful of months we worked together in his homeless recovery he cultivated an itemized list of personal accomplishments, so many I have to mention them.

1. Got a roof over his head and a job in the same day.
2. Graduated from sign holder to top salesperson with our private sector employer, Mobile Auto Glass and repair.
3. Self published an Ebook on Amazon along with a paperback version on
4. Invited to talk about his homeless journey with two radio show hosts.
5. Featured in a two-page spread in the Sunday edition of the Tampa Bay Times
6. Built a Facebook of almost 300 followers
7. Blogged his daily road to recovery attracting an audience from around the globe
8. Has been called an inspiration for homeless recovery and advocates of homeless plight from around the world
9. And after just a few months of knowing him, received a substantial job offer from Boeing Aircraft in Washington State, which he accepted. 

I learned a lot about homeless recovery after working with "Rob" in just the few months that I knew him. I never ask for anything in return when I help someone get off the streets -- but I do ask they help me help someone in need just like I helped them.

Rob has fulfilled this obligation, there was a bounty of knowledge bestowed on me during his rise from the ashen depths. I hope to use what I have learned, to help someone just like Rob helped himself.

Good Luck Robert -- It was an honor to be a part of your  recovery story.

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


Homeless Recovery Speed Record Weighs-In at One Hour

It was an unseasonably cold Spring evening in Tampa Monday night when Tampa Police Homeless Recovery Officer Dan McDonald and myself doubled-up to tackle some of the inner cities most prolific homeless hotspots.

An asphalt parking lot across from a YMCA building at Franklin Street just north of downtown Tampa became the imagery of a stateless and makeshift refugee camp for a dozen or so homeless men and women.

This is where we found Carolyn, a 46-year-old African American women, bundled under the protection of a patchwork comforter. 

I watched as Officer McDonald approached Carolyn as she peeked in a furtive glance as uniformed officers approach -- seemingly to meddle in her chosen place of rest for the evening.   

McDonald's formal introduction is followed by a couple of quick qualifying questions:

    "What is your situation?" and

    "Do you want our help?"

Carolyn responds with some limitations that make her answers difficult to understand; but, we soon learn she was banished into a month of homelessness following classic family entanglements with her sister and designated disability payee.

This is enough information that leads McDonald into the right direction for the quick-fix that will help Carolyn get back home and off the cold parking lot asphalt. It usually starts with a phone call and some implied leverage. In this case, McDonald calls Carolyn's sister -- it was her home where she recently lived near the University area just a few weeks earlier.

After a brief conversation with McDonald, Carolyn's sister graciously becomes accommodating -- and some willful culpability can be smoothed over by inviting her sister back into the home.

Within the hour Carolyn is in transport back to her home joined by McDonald with some parting reassurance and a business card.

McDonald's parting words to Carolyn: "If this should happen again, give your Homeless Recovery Team a call - We'll help you out."

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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Man On The Street Interview: Unrehearsed and Unedited

This is actually an older video of mine kept in the archives until its residual purpose was appropriately fermented. The (formerly) homeless man featured in this unedited footage may be a familiar face to some readers who have spent anytime following our nomadic and sometimes unsettled escapades. Albert Swiger has become the de facto poster child of the Homeless Initiative mostly due to his tenure earned from our first meeting on the streets of Tampa some nineteen month earlier.

I have learned a lot about the underlying causation of homelessness from Albert -- accordingly, he has also become the specimen of my very informal social science project. To some, homeless life out on the streets is a deep entrenchment, even with supporting resources it's a habit that's hard to shake for many. Albert explains it like an addiction -- not unlike smoking and drinking it creeps up on you and it just becomes acceptable -- and, then you're powerless.

Early on, Albert was one of three recipients of the Rapid Rehousing Grant from a $1.5 Billion Dollar allocation to combat homeless plight back in 2009. All three of my grantees received a full year rent-free in an apartment along with paid utilities. At the end of this year all three grantees promptly returned to the streets where they continued with their homeless journey. The one year stay was merely an interruption maybe even an extended vacation without any learned or retooled life skills -- and an abject and absolute waist of money.

How can I make such an assertion with so much confidence? Simply because two of three recipients willfully admitted they were complacent and fell short in doing everything they could have done to seek employment and get a leg up on their recovery in the one year time they had.

So, here is the thesis for my white paper -- in street parlance it's just a simple truth: nobody gets something for nothing anymore and everyone has to have skin in the game.

When Albert ended back on the streets again we just cleaned the slate and started from scratch. We looked for answers and opportunity was presented in the least suspecting ways. Our first residential rehab home was Albert's skin in the game. In exchange for a roof over his head he would have to bring his sweat equity to the table. The little yellow house, once a dilapidated and flimsy structure of a dwelling was vigorously refurbished by Albert until it became a compliment to the neighborhood.

He genuinely treats the home as if it is his own and every day that I return something new has been fixed, repaired or painted.

These are the building blocks of rehabilitation from the addictions of homelessness. And from this humble turn around Albert has ventured into self-employment starting a thriving handy-man business side-stepping his past employment obstacles.

One of the many tenets of homeless recovery can be seen in not hiding from your past but embracing it instead. Albert has learned to be honest with new prospective customers about his departed misdeeds and it often comes with the deliverance of befitting redemption.

Albert has proven that when you are unambiguously honest with yourself even a stranger will give you a second chance -- and, Albert has earned his second chance.

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lenny: An Automotive Humanitarian

Sometimes help comes forward in the least suspecting ways, but when it does it reinforces just how far reaching word-of-mouth can be. Lenny, featured in today's post, rarely if ever would be found surfing the Web much less landing on a blog designed to help those homeless get a leg up on their recovery. 

But, he apparently knows others that do.   

I soon found out, blog reader Angela Liverzani Quartararo, has become one of our most devoted supporters. It was Angela broadcasting the mission of the Homeless Initiative and her message landed on one of Town N Country's most benevolent automotive mechanics: Lenny with Lenny's Auto Services.  The message of donorship came in the form of an email: 

"How can we help out?" "We will do what we can."

My most pressing case of homeless assistance is Valerie Pflum -- the doting mother of two -- she has several job interviews lined-up and she doesn't have the sixty-dollars needed for a Hartline bus pass to get back and forth. 

By the end of the day I had met Lenny in person at his auto repair shop and by late afternoon Valerie had the much needed 31-day bus pass in her hands. 

Valerie told me, "What a relief, I didn't know how I was going to manage without transportation -- I am truly grateful for the help!"

A big Thanks to Lenny with Lenny's Auto Services, the humble mechanic and benefactor of goodwill and Angela a devoted reader for making it all happen.

Lenny Is an Auto Mechanic in Town N' Country 
Lenny's Auto Services
6001 John Rd, Suite 403
Tampa, Fl 33634

Sunday, April 15, 2012

45 Days Of Recovery: The Faces of Success

When confronting a problem as lingering as homelessness sometimes it helps to see the grim reality of real faces and real people who have real problems. The issues of homeless plight can be a temperamental debate -- many argue the root causes -- but, faceless hypotheticals bear little merit when addressing a problem with severe social consequences. 

Having confronted the problem of homelessness face-to-face, engaging more than two-hundred homeless men and women on the streets of Hillsborough County, I have discovered at least one common thread shared amongst the strife of the downward spiral. Each of them have a problem -- or problems -- that they either don't recognize or are incapable of solving on their own. And that's where the Homeless Initiative steps in -- helping each homeless candidate recognize first where they have gone awry -- then sending them in the right direction to fix it. It may seem like an understated approach but it's just one of many layers unique to our proprietary street engagement model. 

The Hillsborugh County Sheriff's Office has assisted the seven men and women featured in today's post all within the last forty-five days. Each of them came with a storied past -- sometimes it's family entanglements other times its years of accumulated oversight and tardy inaction. 

But, in every case their problem was identifiable.

What made these men and women successful in their recovery can be seen as the Golden Egg of problem solving -- they each decided to accept personal responsibility for where they are in life -- they became personally accountable for their inaction and were determined to fix it.

I pay tribute to each of these homeless recovery success stories who didn't get a hand-out -- all they needed was a hand-up.

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

A Homeless Recovery Story With Louisiana Cajun Roots

I spend a good part of my time bushwhacking Town N' Country's heavy palmetto thickets and wooden reserves looking for clandestine homeless camps that line the busy thoroughfares of Hillsborough County.

It's this citizenry of a subculture that slovenly coexists within these short reaches of the right-of-way. On occasion, an out-of-place tarp fashioned for shelter gives their location away -- I break out my walking stick to cut through the dense brush.

This is how I met Micheal, our most recent homeless recovery story -- a blue tarp contrasting with the surrounding green imagery led me right to him. They're always a little startled as you might imagine until I extend the olive branch of homeless assistance.

Most stories of homeless recovery should go as well as Micheal's rise from residential instability. Micheal recognized opportunity when it suddenly appeared on his door step and he took advantage of it.

His roots originate from the marshy wetlands of the Louisiana Bayou. His southern gentility delivers a "Yes Sir" following every question and he was often found cooking French Creole dishes at his camp from his many years as a culinary chef.

Good luck to Michael and his continued homeless recovery success he was great to work with and it was a pleasure to help him in his recovery.

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Deputy goes beyond badge to help homeless

Deputy goes beyond badge to help homeless

 HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY --By Dalia Dangerfild Bay News 9

A Hillsborough County deputy is going beyond the badge.

Deputy Steven Donaldson runs the homeless initiative Help Cops Help Us.

He launched it more than a year ago. It uses a personal approach and connects with private businesses to get people the help they need.

“I'm not an advocate for the homeless, just trying to solve a problem,” he said.

Sometimes that means finding jobs or helping with housing. Other times it's just a ride in the squad car.

“He'll take me to my doctors, he'll take me to work every once in a while,” said Robert Pellechio. “He'll help me with my bike. He helped me get a bike, so he's done a lot for me.”

“When I really knew I was on to something is when TPD called me or sent me an email rather,” Donaldson said, “and said, 'hey, we got our homeless liaison, tell us what you do.'"

Tampa Police is using his model and soon Donaldson believes what he's doing here could become a nationwide vision as well.

Donaldson says he's helped 85 homeless people in the last year. He focuses his efforts on the Town N’ Country area and now another deputy covers the neighborhoods around USF.

Donaldson plans to expand his reach by launching a non-profit in the future.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Front Seat Therapy Yields Change In Direction

It wasn't too long ago where I met Sean, a homeless man in Tampa, at a cold weather shelter during the month of January. I recall Sean coming to a halt at the entrance of the community center when he apparently recognized me:

 "You're Deputy Donaldson," he said.

 "I'm homeless and live on the streets -- can you help me?"

I have been working with Sean ever since our first meeting and he has grown to become one of my more favored candidates. He has an affable and genuine disposition and you sometimes wonder with such a good-natured persona how long could he have been on the streets before someone stopped and helped.

As a 31-year-old man Sean has never maintained a full-time job or really learned how to drive. He explained to me later he taught himself to read as an adult using Hooked-On-Phonics. It's a startling revelation until you come to realize things like this run a muck at an early age when life skills are taught and learned.

Absent a mentoring kinship, your outcome in life is simply a crapshoot but what Sean has proven to me is his genuine desire to overcome the obstacles from his past.

And, this is why he is such a good candidate for success.

Today, Sean proudly displayed his newly acquired Florida driver's license. He has been without a permit to drive for a number of years. Within the same week he started working at our most recent Mobile Auto Repair sales location on West Hillsborough Ave.

Within a two-week period he has overcome two of his greatest obstacles that have been nagging in the back ground most of his adult life.

I try to never assume I know the cause for the sudden spark of motivation and change in direction after years of  tepid and constrained forward movement; so I asked Sean to explain it to me.

Sean calls it "front-seat" therapy --

"When I'm riding with you in the front seat of your patrol car and your helping me out -- it's like therapy to me," Sean said. "Even though I'm not getting off the streets today and I'm not getting a job today I feel better knowing that at least I'm doing something and I'm not sitting in a homeless camp or the library all day long -- and that's what motivates me."

After asking the critical question Sean has helped us sharpen our skills on the street with our homeless recovery niche.

We have always learned from our homeless recovery clients simply because we ask them what works or what doesn't work -- and then we spend the time to listen.

Keep up the great work Sean!

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Steven Venus Homeless For Over Four Years Gets Help From Homeless Initia...

After a year of working with Steven Venus, a Town N' Country homeless man, he finally came up with a solution that would reconnect him with a support system -- his family in Sparta, Illinois. Steven told me: "If you can get me a Bus ticket, my step-dad is anxious to take me in and get me back on my feet." After speaking directly with Steven's step-father in Sparta my next call was to John Gennaro, founder and President of Red Cap Plumbing.

After I explained the game plan to Gennaro he didn't think twice about getting on-line and booking a bus pass for Steven so he can return to his family where he will get the much needed help. "It's a small investment for a substantial return," Gennaro said. "A substantial return for Steven and a substantial return for our community."

He challenges other private sector businesses to do the same thing to help turn our communities around.

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Homeless Jobs Initiative - Private and Public Sector/Faith-Based Coopera...

The Homeless Initiative has expanded the jobs program to a third sales tent kiosk at the North West corner of Hillsborough Av and Webb Rd in Town N' County (Tampa, Florida) Hillsborough County. Private sector company Mobile Auto Glass Repair has paired up with Pastor Dave with First Reform Church to make the Initiative happen. Every auto windshield replacement or repair supports a formerly unemployed homeless person that works onsite at the location.

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

Most Asked Question: How Can I Help?

This morning I met up with a homeless client, her name is Valerie, a mother of a 17-year-old daughter and 24-year-old son -- and as of today's post Valerie is homeless.

Valerie is not one of my typical cases -- as a home maker and doting mother to her children she failed to see the sharp curve at the end of the road, landing her in the ditch. Recently, her husband left her without notice leaving both Valerie and her daughter to fend for themselves.

Valerie is not a victim, she says. She's past the anger and the self pity and ready to fight back. After meeting with her this morning I soon realized that her case is a legitimate one and she has accepted the responsibility for neglecting what became a slow but inevitable downward spiral.

At this point resources are always limited if even available anymore.

I need to help Valerie with some lodging at an extended stay hotel/motel, maybe for a few days while she has some job interviews that have been lined-up.

If you have a connection or resource for lodging -- That's how you can help out.

Valerie also has working experience in : data entry, accounts payable/receivable,medical billing, collections for insurance companies, doctor's offices, labs, and administrative office work.

Again, if you have a contact or resource please let me know.


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

Monday, April 2, 2012

TAMPA EPOCH - Street Stories by Warren Elly

Street Stories
By Warren Elly

For the 15 years he’s patrolled Hillsborough County with a Sheriff’s star and a gun, Deputy Steve Donaldson had always dealt with the Homeless like every other bay area cop; he’d arrested the same folks, over and over on misdemeanor charges that had them released in hours. 

Revolving door justice, Donaldson says, solves nothing. “They just end up back on the street again, and it starts all over. It’s the never-ending cycle we’d become so used to. Well, after 15 years I finally realized there’s got to be another way to address the Homeless issue”. 

Everything changed for the veteran Deputy after the bad economy had put a panhandler on just about every corner of every major intersection in his Town ‘N Country Patrol District. In June of 2010, Donaldson’s Master Sergeant passed on his new assignment – find new ways to deal with the Homeless. The veteran Deputy knew what was needed but he really didn’t’ know how to do it.  

Donaldson’s idea, to get the Homeless a roof over their heads, sign them up for assistance, and them get jobs was named the ‘Homeless Initiative’, with a simple objective; “If can we help these people get off the streets, then we won’t have to deal with the problem”. 

From the start, Deputy Donaldson had no script, no detailed plan. Instead he hit the streets and started listening, working to earn trust in the scattered, but well wired Homeless community in his Town ‘N Country Patrol District.  It took some convincing before folks would believe he’d help them get off the streets and not just keep arresting them. “It’s like starting up a business; you plant seeds and see what will grow”.  It was a new and radical idea for the Sheriff’s Office, going from handcuffs to a hand up, but never a hand out. “They’ll have to bring something to the table, because nobody gets something for nothing in my book”, says Donaldson.

“When we first started we relied exclusively on public resources. It was a fairly simple idea; we’d pick people up see if they wanted assistance, giving them two choices. One I can help you get off the street, or two when you violate the law by camping or panhandling, we will arrest you repeatedly or we can help you and get you off the street”. 

It didn’t take long for Donaldson to prove he meant what he said, and word spread. “Once they realized we were offering legitimate help, they would say, I see where this is going to go, and they began to accept the offer of help”. 

The first strategy was to take the Homeless who wanted help to the Hillsborough Mental Health Center where they were assisted with housing, a resource that quickly ran out. “The alternative was to find our own resources, to cultivate our own type of jobs program our own type of housing initiatives and that kind of thing”. 

At a Saturday morning men’s church breakfast, Donaldson met a man who owned several homes that had fallen into disrepair. Because of the housing downturn, he couldn’t afford to fix them up. Thieves were breaking in, stealing air conditioning units and otherwise trashing the properties. Maybe, the owner asked the deputy, the homeless could use one of his houses. 

Suddenly Donaldson had a solution for two problems; how to secure vacant homes targeted by vandals, and how to get his Homeless clients off the streets. 

At the core of the idea is what many experts see as the only true first step to eliminating Homelessness; a strategy often talked about, but rarely enacted called ‘Housing First’.  “In order to rehabilitate, you need shelter. A lot of problems go away when people get a roof over their heads and some sort of supportive structure”.  

Using grant money and private donations from Home Depot among others, Donaldson paired Homeless people with construction skills or just a willingness to work hard with willing homeowners. Next thing he knew, the first home rehab project was coming together. 

Three men got a roof over their heads, so long as they were willing to work for it, and deputies would have one less vacant home to worry about in Town ‘N Country. Donaldson, keeping a close eye on the men, worked with the homeowner to let them live in the house for free in exchange for their labor. After six months of work on the house, they’d need to be searching for jobs and eventually start paying an affordable rent, like $50 a week.

One of the men, 45 year old Albert Swinger, told the Tampa Bay Times he’d been having trouble getting a job because would be employers would not look beyond his criminal past. Convicted of drug and property crimes, Swinger says “they think I’m still who I used to be”. Now, thanks to the joy of having a home, he and the others have the chance to prove they could support themselves and get off the streets. 

One of the key ingredients, Donaldson says, is to exploit what he calls the virtues of the uniform; he calls it ‘Street Engagement’. “A lot of miracles happen when it’s a uniformed patrol officer that does it. Because it’s what you least expect, it gets a lot of attention because typically law enforcement usually makes arrests, enforces the laws. We don’t normally solve problems like this. When they see officers solving problems from the ground up, everyone snaps their head at attention and everybody hears about it”.

Some proof came in early March when fellow deputies brought Donaldson into a shoplifting call. The 20-year-old woman in handcuffs had been homeless for 2 months after family issues got her kicked out of her parents’ home. Instead of going to jail, Donaldson took her home, where he mediated a settlement between the young woman and her parents that lead to her being welcomed back into the family. “Everybody needs a spokesperson everybody needs an intermediary if you need help. A street strategist. That’s what we do as well. I show up in uniform and I’m with a homeless person, I’m trying to help, then their case is much more legitimate now, its more likely that they will get the help… for sure”.

Deputy Steven Donaldson’s supervisors and fellow patrol deputies, even citizens, he says, have seen a remarkable transformation in Town ‘N Country. The panhandlers are gone. No more signs flying.
Among Deputy Donaldson’s other successes, Robert Rashford; now living in one of the rehab homes and paying the homeowner rent.  Rashford became one of the first to get a job, hired, the Sheriff’s office says, as an on-site Sales Representative with Mobile Auto Glass and Repair, the program’s first private sector employment partner. 

Street Engagement is an idea that’s spreading. Deputy Donaldson says he’s very encouraged and excited to be working with TPD Officer Dan MacDonald, the City’s newly assigned Homeless Liaison for Tampa Police. 

He’s also hoping the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Homeless Initiative and Street Engagement approach becomes a national solution to the Homelessness that’s still growing.

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