Monday, July 16, 2012

People behind the scenes: Writer, contributor joins homeless blog

Brent Donaldson joins blog as contributing writer
 Tampa - By Brent Donaldson

It started with a meeting at a Starbucks coffeehouse. I was seated in the corner by myself as I sipped iced coffee from a plastic straw and randomly checked the time on my iPod. The room was filled with the stimulating scent of Arabica beans and Espresso foam mixed with the chatter of young voices -- And, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop while I waited for 10:00 am to arrive.

Around me, the many conversations touched on the looming hangovers that would soon follow summer break, and who was doubling-up on classes and who was dropping out. But, suddenly -- an abrupt silence came over the room. I looked up just in time to see the cause of their quiet disruption pulling up into the busy parking lot, its reflection in the gloss of a nearby window pane caught my eye.

“To Serve and Protect”, read the reflected words as they slowed to a stop. I stood up and walked in the direction of the door.

“One more drink, "a cappuccino, please.” I called to the barista with a wave of my hand. “Well, great” I thought to myself with a laugh, “Now everyone knows the cop is with me.”

However, after maybe ten minutes had passed, something incredible happened. We sat there together, both of our reading glasses donned as we feverishly scribbled one note after the other -- together our heads were pitching ideas faster than our hands could write them down. Neither of us had expected the meeting to go this well.

 “Another coffee, Miss. Make this one black.”

We bounced ideas back and forth, with each round they became more refined, potent, and more effective. We discussed, amongst other things, how to promote the Homeless Initiative, “You see, Dad …,” I started with my most patronizing tone, “there is this thing called the Internet.” He rolled his eyes and we shared a laugh. Little did we know, however, that by the end of the next day a featured blog video would attract a respectable viral audience of more than five-thousand hits in the course of a just few hours. For a father and son duo we made a pretty good team with our first marketing release.

But ultimately, I am writing this introduction to acquaint myself with the many of you who support, contribute and follow the works of the Homeless Initiative. Those who have been here since almost its inception -- pouring every last drop of your time and resources into this idea my father had -- an idea we all now share together. To the many devoted who have worked tirelessly, writing checks and lifting shovels, to make our community better in every sense of the word. And, if I may say, it is an incredible honor to be allowed to join you all as a contributor -- and perhaps, even speak on behalf of the many that can’t speak for themselves.
My father, with all of your help, has concocted a truly unique recipe for success. And, now with my help, I hope that we can add just a pinch of youth to that recipe. I am here to be the ying to my father’s yang; a left to my dad’s right. I am here as a contributing writer, and a fresh pair of eyes and ears. I am Brent Donaldson, and I am very pleased to meet you all.

Breaking News:Tampa officer lends hand to homeless

TAMPA --By JOSH POLTILOVE | The Tampa Tribune

She spends her days on Tampa's streets and her nights beneath bridges or among bushes. Once when she was trying to sleep a spider bit her, causing her leg to swell so much she needed to go to a hospital emergency room.

Gloria Jenkins-Leviston, 45, has been homeless in downtown Tampa for months. She is sick of it. It's rough living on the streets, she said, and she is desperate for shelter.
When she saw Tampa Police Officer Dan McDonald last week near Lykes Gaslight Square Park, close to police headquarters, she smiled and waited for him to notice her.

"Excuse me," she said. "Can you help me?"

Since January, McDonald has served as the police department's first homeless liaison.
Census data, McDonald said, shows about 17,000 people in Hillsborough County are out on the streets, temporarily staying with friends, or living in hotels or motels. His goal is to help those in Tampa who want to be helped.

So far McDonald knows of 15 people he directly or indirectly helped find a place to stay.
"We call it street engagement," McDonald, 46, said of his new job. "We don't wait for them to go to us. We go to them."

McDonald drives to makeshift homeless camps, to parks where homeless people live, to convenience stores where they congregate. Sometimes he helps the homeless connect with out-of-state family members. Sometimes he helps them get proper identification or refers them to social services programs.

Tampa police modeled their program after the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's homeless initiative, which started in Town 'N Country in June 2010. That initiative spread elsewhere in the county as well, including the University Area.

The departments have worked collaboratively and so far have helped more than 100 people get off the streets one way or the other.

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said officers are aware of the area's large homeless population and want to help.

"Homelessness is a societal issue, but obviously law enforcement can't turn a blind eye to it," she said.

                                                                         * * * * *
Jails in part have become places for those with mental illnesses, and that is not beneficial to the inmate or the taxpayer, nor is it a good use of law enforcement time, Castor said.
Through the initiative, she said, "We're helping the individual; we're helping the community by getting them off of the street; helping law enforcement that they don't get in the same circle of helping the same individuals over and over."

Several officers were interviewed for the liaison position. In McDonald, Castor said, police officials saw an interest, an aptitude and a passion for the work.

"It's working out great," she said of the initiative. "Dan McDonald is doing a fantastic job. The word has gotten out on the street."

McDonald, who has spent most of his 14 years of police experience on patrol, said the liaison work is gaining momentum as the tightly knit homeless community is beginning to trust him. Many homeless people believe police officers only want to arrest them, McDonald said, and it is challenging to convince them otherwise.

"One guy actually said to me, 'You pass the test,' " said McDonald, a Manchester, England, native.
Still, some homeless people are openly hostile to McDonald when he approaches. One man had such a poor attitude that "he went to the back of the line," McDonald said. "With 17,000 people out there, I should get to him in about 400 years."

                                                                          * * * * *
The police department's goal isn't to hurry people off the streets in time for next month's Republican National Convention, McDonald said. This is a long-term project designed to offer meaningful help.

One person McDonald helped get off the downtown streets, 46-year-old Dean Sawyers, now has a place to stay and a job with the downtown "Clean Team," which provides maintenance to downtown gutters, sidewalks and public spaces.

"It's better," Sawyers said of his life. "I get better rest, take showers and stuff."

Sawyers, 46, wanted a job but lacked motivation to get one without a push, McDonald said.

"He took me down there, got the application and stuff," Sawyers said.

McDonald also has worked to help Elsie Powell, 59.

Powell has been homeless – off and on – for years. She said she receives about $700 a month in disability pay because of a back injury, but many apartment complexes have turned her down.
It's a difficult life on the streets; some people are violent and steal, Powell said. She said she wants help but many other people like living on the streets and have no use for McDonald.
"He does an excellent job," Powell said of McDonald. "A lot of people don't want his help, but he really does try."

                                                                               * * * * *
Jenkins-Leviston wants a place to stay, but she doesn't know which way to go or what to do to get off Tampa's streets.
Her luck has been bad since her husband died of cancer three years ago, she said.
The Mississippi native said she has depression and had a brain tumor removed, and she still has problems associated with that.
After meeting McDonald, she said, she believes in him. She saw him talking with another homeless woman and trying to help, and she wanted his help, too.
McDonald took down Jenkins-Leviston's information and referred her to a homeless recovery program on Tampa Street. He gave her his telephone number and said if she needs a ride to Social Security, he could help.
"I was so happy," she said of meeting McDonald. "Thank God."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

People behind the scenes: Master Sergeant Gilbert Sainz

Master Sergeant Gilbert Sainz
 Tampa - By Steven L Donaldson

I'm often asked by those both curious and confused just how the Homeless Initiative ever got started. Well, I certainly didn't wake up one morning with an epiphany thinking I could save the world and all the homeless people in it.

In early 2010, the imagery of homelessness and its consequence of panhandling overflowed into the streets of Hillsborough county. It was a reflection of our communities that left not much more than despair for those witnessing these unkempt streets.

It seemed Town N' Country, a suburb fringed on the county's north west tract, suffered the biggest impact with those flying cardboard signs jockeying for position on every street corner.

Now, more than two years later, the time or place when Master Sergeant Gilbert Sainz delivered my new assignment still escapes me -- but, I remember his delivery like it was yesterday:

 "You know, we need to do something about these panhandlers."

I'm always hoodwinked by his benevolent and mesmerizing management style -- with the good grace of saying "we" -- he had hatched a plan I later realized translated to "me".  Before I picked up on what had just happened he was off to put out his next fire and the wheels were already in motion that would soon plant the seeds for the Homeless Initiative that we have today.

An undertaking as ambitious and  unconventional as the Homeless Initiative doesn't happen successfully without an almost Galactic alignment of the stars. And, it was going to take a mentoring influence like the Master Sergeant working behind the scenes for a lot of it to come together. Soon enough he was connecting me with the right people and the right resources from his years of seasoned experience and his extended social network. Then he patted me on the back -- got out of my way -- and said make it happen! 

Out of the box thinking doesn't come without a sometimes dicey game of risk and reward. And frankly, if you're not taking any risk your not thinking far enough out of the box. And with risk comes some missteps and hiccups -- I made a few. In each of these times of uncertainty the Master Sergeant  never left me abandoned but instead stood behind me and argued in my defense -- even at his own peril.  

Reflecting back over these months some dust has settled and perspective has come into focus. I learned leadership is more about humility and restraint than it is about authority, control or dominance. And, it is these learned lessons that gives virtue to the uniform.  

If I ever had to write a book about the Master Sergeant's engrained talent to lead and manage his troops I would surely plagiarize the title: What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School. Sometimes you just don't know what you don't know until someone like the Master Sergeant shows up to teach you.

Thank you Master Sergeant Gilbert Sainz -- the community, the department you serve, and the more than one-hundred recovered homeless owes you a debt of gratitude.

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

8 months later a house becomes a home

Before photo of home when it was vacant and sitting in disrepair
By Steven L Donaldson

Back in December of 2011, an almost forgotten and vacant stock of a wooden structure remained dormant and unoccupied -- broken and blighted it was a distraction for the neighborhood.

Despite this imagery of unhandiness opportunity was lying in wait.

These before and after pictures not only illustrate the transformation of a house to a home -- but, it also proves the housing first model can transform someones life as well
The Home now less tha eight months later
Today, less than eight months later the home is a compliment to the neighborhood thanks to the sweat equity of its current occupant Albert Swiger who was given a second chance at reclaiming a former life. 

On this follow-up check-in on a mid afternoon summer visit a freshly mulched planter bed frames the entrance of the homes wooden deck. The green grass is healthy and neatly trimmed and the Crape Myrtles are budding with clusters of crinkled red and white flowers.

Albert has spruced up the landscape and maintains the home
Albert has lived here since early December, has a girlfriend, and is working full time. A stark contrast from a year earlier flying a cardboard sign and living out of a storage locker on Hillsborough Ave.

He has a few people to thank like the homes owner, Greg Gingeleski, who took a chance on not only Albert but on the "Homes of Second Chances" rehousing model.

In August, Albert seemed proud to report, he will start paying Gingeleski market rent. Since, the rehousing model is not an entitlement program -- instead, its recipients get a hand-up at becoming self-sufficient once again with the hopes of one day getting their head above water and pulling their own weight.

And now, less than eight months later on this humid summer afternoon, it has become clear to me and many others that Albert has done just that.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Homeless recovery and Horse rescue: A winning strategy

Anthio featured in this clip was homeless in Tampa, Florida before being referred to the Sheriff's Office Homeless Initiative for assistance. After meeting with Anthio for the first time I almost had an immediate housing solution for him when he showed me his prized album of pictures from his earlier show horse training days. He has a passion for horses and it was an obvious collaboration with the horse rescue, Equestrian Inc., who also needed a ranch hand which produced an answer.

Anthio was off the streets at no expense to the tax paying citizenry and the therapy of his reclaimed former life has produced incredible results in a short period of time. We still work with Anthio until we are comfortable that he has become self supportive and independent.

He is a favorite homeless recovery success story and it illustrates the problem-solving collaboration between public and privates sectors.

Good luck Anthio we are all proud of you for your remarkable come back from the streets. 

And, Thanks to Judy at the District III Sheriff's Office and her Husband Arnold ( and the unidentified Cheerleader Dad) for all the donations!

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

People Behind The Scenes: District III CSO Judy Walker

Bryant just minutes before his interview
Tampa - By Steven L Donaldson

Her goodwill typically starts with a hug when she catches me at the office in person before gathering mail and checking for phone messages -- but, on busy days like today her kindness began with a telephone call. It's the same call she has made repeatedly after cleaning out her closets or buying new furniture.   

District III Community Service Officer Judy Walker has been one of my most benevolent supporters, having donated trailers of barley used furniture and mens clothing. Sometimes I've grown concerned that her husband Arnold has anything left to wear -- but Judy assures me not to worry.

On this faithful day, it was a mens' navy blue blazer -- a poly-wool summer blend -- that I was concerned  might not find a fitting recipient from a person in need. Not too many of my homeless clients have had the need for such an endowment but it landed on top of the pile nonetheless. 

Well, Ye of little faith --  

I soon realized I was more naive than I thought. Within hours of loading up Walker's donations a young man named Bryant called for a ride to an important job interview. He's been working hard to get off the streets so I obliged his request to avoid the long bus ride and sweltering summer heat. After jumping into the back seat I couldn't figure out why he had become so giddy --  searching the pile of clothes next to him it was the navy blue blazer of all things that caught his eye. 

Judy Walker donating furniture earlier this year
Minutes before his interview he stepped out of the patrol car to try it on with an almost perfect fit. Somebody was looking out for him I would say, and maybe his completed professional appearance was just the edge he needed to have just a little more confidence to ace the interview. 

So another lesson learned on the streets in the homeless recovery business, you never know who or what is going to connect the dots that might make the difference for someone trying to get off the streets -- like a mens' navy blazer.

Thanks Judy, You're always the best!

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

People behind the scenes: Citizens Patrol Volunteer Angela Liverzani Quartararo

 Tampa - By Steven L Donaldson

Early on, when the Homeless Initiative debuted with its online presence it soon cultivated a cast of immediate followers and devotees to the cause of homeless recovery and successful rehabilitation from the streets.

But, one persistent fan of the law enforcement brand, Angela Liverzani Quartararo, was so adamant and pronounced with her desire she emailed her resume highlighting her years as a Pinellas County social worker with the deep-seeded ambition of becoming part of the mix.  

I couldn't resist her pit bull angle of attack and regular follow-up much longer and finally let her jump on board recently as a volunteer -- my only regret: I should have done it much sooner.

Not too long ago I called Angela at her home office and delivered the first homeless recovery assignment: find me a horse farm that needed a ranch hand. It wasn't an hour later when Angela called back with her first homeless recovery solution for a young man named Anthio, a show horse trainer I had been working with on the streets for a few weeks. It was a successful match pairing him up with a local horse rescue, Equestrian, Inc., all within just a few miles from where me and Anthio stood.

More recently, I had to slide Angela a curve ball -- I stumbled upon a deaf homeless man who had been living out of an abandoned muffler shop on Dale Mabry Highway for a few weeks. After calling upon my usual resources I was at a dead-end and even stumped. I was having trouble getting help for the man and had to rely on Angela to come through for me once again. 

Angela must work well under pressure -- she could hear the stress in my voice as I explained to her that we had an unusual case. The homeless recovery blood hound was dispatched on the phones unearthing sign language interpreters and digging up answers like she was palming  cliff notes under her desk for the final exam.    

I don't know how I thought I could have gotten along without her. So, a big Thank You to my homeless recovery side-kick for all her volunteerism, enthusiasm, and mostly for being part of the Homeless Recovery team.

You're the best!

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

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Russell: A Homeless Recovery Update

Tampa - By Steven L Donaldson

It's been more than a year since I first met Russell -- one of our early homeless recovery success stories. 

It's a Sunday morning and already sweltering when I decided to stop by and visit the brat pack: neighbors Albert and Russell and Greg Gingeleski who gave the two former homeless men each a home of second chances.

The two men along with their benefactor and landlord live in a small collection of homes on a rural strip of Town N' Country's west side.  These smaller cottage-sized homes sit among much larger contemporary housing across the street and it seems they have blended in seamlessly with little or no disruption -- In fact, the homes have become a compliment to the neighborhood.

It's been over six months since the Homeless Initiative and the Home Depot Foundation stepped in to help refurbish the homes that would soon lay the ground work for residential recovery -- an investment that would later deliver a substantial return in the name of self-sufficiency for both Albert and Russell.

"I can't believe it was a year ago I was living out of a church bathroom," Russell reminded me during our late morning conversation.

Sweat equity:Russell installed a bamboo flag pole
Since this time Russell has dusted himself off, his bills are paid in advance -- and, now after six month of Gingeleski's benevolence  Russell even pays market rent. It's about assimilating back into a level of normalcy and simply reclaiming a former life. Both men were given this chance with free or reduced rent in exchange for their sweat equity while they repaired the homes.

The most enduring sign of recovery from the streets is Althea, Russell's nine month old Catahoula Leopard dog that he recently made part of his home. When you have a stable life you can begin to acquire things again and pets are a fulfilling form of therapy for someone on a come back like Russell. 

Before I left he delivered the most startling update -- after fifteen years of not owning a car Russell recently purchased a used Chevy S-10 pickup truck and hopes to have his license restored within the next month. 

I always had confidence in our Homes of Second Chances rehousing model but I didn't expect the likes of Greg Gingeleski to bolster its momentum and success in the way he has. It has become a commune of mentorship, personal recovery from the streets, and forward movement for both Albert and Russell and I thank both of these men for making me proud to be a part of their successful come back from the streets.

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

Homeless Lance: A more extreme case for homeless recovery

This video interview was produced by Robert Rashford aka: "Homeless Rob" who used to be homeless in Tampa (Town N Country) where this video was filmed, specifically an abandoned car wash. Rashford since has successfully recovered from the streets through the intervention of the Help Cops Help Us homeless Initiative and is living in Washington State after receiving an employment offer from Boeing aircraft.

Lance is the best example of a disconnected maybe fragmented system that rarely, if ever, addresses these more severe cases -- you're witnessing a video archive, by example, of the most difficult cases for homeless recovery.

The underlying problem: Law enforcement, mental health services, and homeless recovery programs do not have a single cohesive approach to getting Lance -- and others like him -- permanently off the streets. That is until now -- since Lance's most recent incarceration I have worked with both the social services and medical staff at the Hillsborough County Jail along with Lance's private SSI/SSDI attorney to establish benefits. There are logistical obstacles in place with the elusive nature of not only Lance's residential instability but his assumed mental health complications.

I hope we can all agree, incarceration by itself, is the eternal revolving door.

It should be clear that Lance is not doing himself or anyone else any good by remaining on the streets in this sometimes awkward dislocation of societal blight where he has been a repeated and consequential drain on county resources -- particularly a constant drain for law enforcement.

Wish me luck, I'll have to pull out a "MacGyver" to fix this one.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Homes of Second Chances: People Behind the Scenes

Ryan Schulze receives award at Coldwell Banker Banquet
Meet Ryan Schulze -- Coldwell Banker's 2012 recipient of the prestigious International President's Circle Designation Award -- a designation bestowed for being among the top 8% of sales associates internationally.

Recently, I met up with Schulze to talk about the Homeless Initiative's Homes of Second Chances.

Considering his prominence within  the community and his real estate prowess I thought Schulze might be a good resource and humanitarian partner with unearthing some slightly neglected  homes. 

In the aftermath of an anemic real estate market we have discovered a rehousing opportunity in almost forgotten and sometimes abandoned housing stock fallen by the waist-side. Many of these homes sit vacant and in disrepair for years -- some go into foreclosure and short sales -- others lie dormant in  devalued portfolios while the deed holder waits for a market rebound. 

In each of these cases of economic adversity a rehousing opportunity lies in wait for the right mix of stakeholders that abide by a problem-solving collaboration that satisfies the inherent humanitarian interests of our community.

Without wasting any time Schultze was on board with our very first conversation connecting the Homeless Initiative with both philanthropic investors and private sector grant resources to refurbish these sometimes dilapidated homes. It is not only a gesture of good will but it also provides qualified homeless candidates clean and safe shelter from the ashen consequences of the streets until they get their heads above water. Communities reap the benefit with another blighted home taken of the rolls of vacancy, abandonment, and disrepair -- and fewer people livings on the streets. 

Among other likely candidates, we are currently working with a homeless family with a two-year-old daughter who are anxious to have skin in the game. It's their sweat equity we're looking for, as a tenet of the Homeless Initiative, every stakeholder must bring something to the table. Nobody gets something for nothing is our mantra --  and for a roof over their heads successful homeless recovery candidates agree to work on a portion of the homes repairs so they feel a certain pride of ownership. The philosophy rest on the premise where they become part of the problem solving venture not just benefiting from or feeling entitled to it.  

Since this humble beginning we have looked at a handful of potential homes likely to fit the bill for our rehousing model and we hope to deliver the first Coldwell Banker success story sometime in the near future. We feel confidant of the Home of Second Chances  sustainable and  long term success since our first inaugural rehousing experiment has not only past the stress test of the street but it has flourished along with those who have been given a Home of Second Chances. 

So, a big Thanks to Coldewell Banker Broker/Associate Ryan Schulze for being part of the homeless recovery team and having skin in the game. 

Coldewell Banker Broker/Associate Ryan Schulze can be reached at:

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Detective turns advocate for mental health | Ames Tribune

Detective turns advocate for mental health | Ames Tribune

A Homeless Recovery Update: Michael on the come back

Do you remember Michael  -- a homeless man with roots from the Louisiana Bayou? We helped Michael gets off the streets back in April and he recently called to ask that I pay him a visit in person, which I did.

Sometimes I may have a concern when I get these phone calls thinking that something has run a muck; but, Michael had nothing but good news to share with me this past Friday.

I would still say Michael is in a recovery phase since his state of homelessness is not too distant of a recent memory. After sitting down with Michael at his new residence you can see in his billowing spirit there has been a dramatic turn around for him in a positive direction.

As a proponent of the "housing first" philosophy, the best therapy for homeless recovery is not being homeless and having a stable roof over your head. As redundant as this may sound, an environment of normalcy and stability is the precursor to not only reclaim a former life but liberate oneself from other transgression that may very well keep someone on the streets living in a homeless camp.

Now that Michael is off the streets most of his problems have diminished or gone away -- and, so a new direction also delivers a renewed momentum in that new direction.

After our meeting Friday Michael was ready to deliver the news that he is anxious to help others that are homeless and return the help in the same way he received help to get off the streets. Michael's notice of paying back a perceived indebtedness only proves to me helping just one person is more a dilated dynamic of reciprocal interaction between people than it is singular and fleeting .

This is Michael's video covering the day he left his homeless camp and moved into a stable residence back in April of this year. Keep up the great work Michael you have proven many dissenters wrong.

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

Tampa Police promote homeless effort in Spring Issue of Signal 14 magazine

A few months ago Tampa Police minted their very first "Homeless Liaison" Master Officer Dan McDonald. In this short time McDonald has blazed a trail within the City of Tampa assisting the homeless with their recovery from the streets.

More recently McDonald assisted a homeless Veteran with housing by connecting him to the right resources which is an overwhelming task for most without the type of support offered by McDonald's Homeless Initiative.

I have been fortunate enough to work at McDonald's side to better understand the complexity of the homeless problem within the City of Tampa. I have witnessed his problem solving skills which will be an asset to those he helps on the streets

In the Signal 14 Spring issue McDonald said, "Success with this program relies on building relationships. In this new position, I'm able to use my creativity and networking skills to help those less fortunate." 

Keep up the great work Master Officer McDonald, you have already made a difference in the communities that you serve.

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