Representative Michelle Salzman has partnered with Sheriff Chip Simmons, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and Escambia County to improve the visibility of homeless shelter resources via a new dashboard on the county’s website.
When Sheriff Simmons became aware that this resource did not exist, he knew he needed to take action to make this a reality.
“There is no reason we should not have this information readily available to the public,” he said.
“How do we even take care of these people if we don’t know where to send them?” said representative Michelle Salzman to the Mental Health Task Force of Northwest Florida during her July meeting.
The solution, formed in collaboration between the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, representative Michelle Salzman and Escambia County was to develop an online dashboard that will index the reported available resources in the community and be available on the county’s website.
The dashboard will ideally function similarly to the Emergency Medical Services Dashboard that Escambia County currently operates, or the City’s past COVID-e9 dashboard.
“Law Enforcement is not going to arrest our way out of homelessness here in Escambia County,” said Ronnie Rivera, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Neighborhood Specialist. “We’re not going to fill up our jails with people that are undergoing life-altering events or resting in public parks. We can’t do that. What we can do is direct these people to a shelter or a warm bed, even if just for the night.”
The new Dashboard aims to have shelters and support service providers provide a daily update about key data points, most notably, the number of beds they have available. This information has never before been made readily available in Escambia County. Having this data easily available will help entities like the Sheriff’s Office quickly connect those resources to people who urgently need them.
Currently, the Dashboard is not yet live, being best tested and perfected on a BETA link.
Sheriff Simmons emphasizes that Interim County Administrator Wes Moreno and his staff at the County deserve the credit for making the Dashboard a reality. Additional non-profit organizations and shelters are being added to the dashboard everyday, and hopefully, Escambia County aims to have 100% participation from partner agencies.
Reporting the data to the county will be voluntary and Representative Salzman expressed her expectation that service providers would participate willingly.
“If you can take public dollars to service the public, the least that you can do is tell the public what you’re doing,” Salzman said. “The least you can do is tell us you have 10 beds available or zero beds available.”
Salzman and Sheriff Simmons both urge participation, and expressed that those service providers who do not participate by reporting their information to the county may find that their funding is at risk.
“We’re going to have to make sure that those facilities that are providing homeless care, if they want to continue to get the funding from the government agencies, they are going to have to submit their data,” Salzman said.
Rivera is hopeful that the dashboard will help improve the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to connect individuals who would benefit from them.
“I think this is going to be a great tool in the tool belt of our law enforcement officers.”