NewsPasco County


Zephyrhills homeless shelter forced to shut down because of code violations

Posted at 5:55 PM, Apr 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-02 20:37:24-04

If you live in Pasco County, you may be struggling to keep a roof over your head.

More than 18% of the population in Pasco County is considered chronically homeless and Don Anderson, the CEO for the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County believes that number may be going up because of a lack of affordable housing.

“I see in the future, we may have more and more individuals that require shelter situations,” said Anderson.

According to a recent United Way ALICE report which stands for, "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed" -- 45% or more of families in Pasco County are spending a huge majority of their income on housing. Anderson says that percentage equals about 85,000-90,000 households in the county.

“The minute you have a health issue, a car breaks down, you’re going to be at risk of homelessness,” he said.

Anderson says Pasco County lacks a true "low barrier” shelter, giving someone who needs a roof over their head shelter for the night.

“There are no requirements placed upon the individual. There’s no credit check, cash or payment involved,” he said. “No standards relative to drug use, or alcohol use.”

He says it’s critical these types of shelters exist. They follow HUD recommendations, using the "housing first" model -- get folks a place to stay and then identifying the issues they’re dealing with and how to fix them.

"Any individual that is homeless is placed in the house and then, and only then, can they begin to address those barriers that have kept them out of housing for whatever period of time," he said.

Anderson says right now options are limited for folks that want shelter but don't want to enter a program.

The owner of A Helping Rock, a homeless shelter in Zephryhills, will have to appear in court May 6 where a judge will review Pasco county's request for a temporary injunction. Code inspectors deemed the property unsafe for people living there.

According to court documents filed on March 15, the property is being used as “transitional housing to assist the homeless community.” The property, which is zoned for agricultural use, has several tents and RVs that aren’t ready for highway use and don’t have the appropriate licensing. The property also has a church, cabin, and manufactured home, along with park amenities.

They say inspectors found the electric services present “imminent life-safety hazards” across the property, and that many structural, electrical, plumbing and mechanical jobs had been done without proper permits. They also say the sewage system is not able to handle what it's currently being used for.

The county says it has been working with the owner, Eddy Reyes, for two years to try and inform him of the zoning options, and give him time to, “develop and implement a business model that meets the county’s zoning regulations.”

But officials say he continues to use the cabins, RVs and tents and hasn’t made any changes.

Reyes says the hookups for the RVs were already on the property when he bought them. So was the church, and the cabins. He says the only thing they added were three more RVs. He says up until the temporary injunction was filed, he didn’t know what the violations were.

"Even if we wanted to fix something, we can’t,” he said.

County officials say the only type of structures allowed on the property right now would be a single family residence and manufactured homes. Tents, RVs, and cabins are not allowed. The property may also not be used for “transitional housing” unless it’s rezoned.

The court documents say he charges tenants $125 a month to rent a tent, $225 a month for a cabin, and $325 a month for an RV. Reyes says if a tenant can’t pay they aren’t kicked out. Instead, they are given a course on budgeting. He says they don’t require someone pay these fees until they get a job.

Reyes told the county he would like to see the park rezoned for campground use where RVs, and tents would be allowed along with a residential treatment and care facility. But the county says if that were to happen, he would still need to have licenses on all of the RVs so they are ready for highway use. He says they are willing to do that.

"We would like the county to very simply let us know what those violations are, just like they have done now in the injunction and then allow us to go ahead and start taking care of that. Which we are more than ready and prepared to do,” said Reyes.

A public meeting will be held April 4 at 6 p.m. to create an advocacy group to rally behind the facility and bring their concerns to county commissioners before the May 6 court hearing. Reyes says he’d rather see the money spent on court fees, spent on getting the facility up to code.