What is F.A.S.T.?
Faith & Action for Strength Together, (F.A.S.T.) is our Justice Ministry Organization partner, made up of more than 35 varied faith communities in Pinellas County. The mission of F.A.S.T. is to bring together people of all faiths to engage in a process of listening, educating and acting in order to address community issues in a powerful way. The goal is to serve as agents of change, calling for a renewed community by holding public systems accountable to improve the quality of life for all in Pinellas County and to foster and promote community wide interest and concern for the problems of individuals and families, particularly low to moderate income, so that such issues as poverty, crime, sickness, housing, education, and environmental degradation may be brought to the attention of our civic leaders
1. Affordable Housing
Pinellas County is in a housing crisis. Working families are living in hotel rooms or living in their cars because they can’t afford the high cost of housing in Pinellas County. During our listening process over the last 3 years, members shared that they are often paying so much on their housing that they have to choose between eating or paying for their medications. Others have to live with No one should ever have to make that kind of decision. According to Shimberg Center data, 82,000 families in our county are paying more than half of their income on housing. Nearly all of those families have an income that is less than, 80% of Area Median Income, around $50,000/year for a family of 4. There are over 1.6 million families on the wait list for HUD’s affordable housing and the list is closed so no other families can access the assistance. Non-profit developers such as Catholic Charities, Boley Centers, and Family Promise say that their biggest hurdle to getting a family or individual into stable housing is the scarcity of affordable housing options in Pinellas County.
Three years ago, FAST asked our County Commissioners to spend 4.15% of the overall Penny for Pinellas tax money on affordable housing. This is projected to be $82.5 million! Over the last several years, FAST worked hard to get the Commission to pass a resolution stating in writing that the 4.15% should be spent on affordable housing. In Spring 2019, the Commission passed the resolution. The resolution also states that this money should be spent mainly on families making 80% of Area Median Income or less. Additionally, FAST asked the St. Petersburg City Council members to use a percentage of the city’s Penny tax money on affordable housing. The City Council committed to use $15 million for affordable housing! The $15 million is officially in the city’s budget for Penny for Pinellas and was approved unanimously by all City Council members in the summer of 2017. Additionally, in the summer of 2018, we got the St. Pete city council to pass a resolution that states that 75% of this $15 million will be spent on families making 80% of the Area Median Income.
For a map the housing projects that have been built with the money committed, click here.
2. Criminal Justice
Mental Health and Addiction concerns
FAST began to hear hundreds of stories from families who had loved ones that had been arrested or put in jail due to their untreated mental illnesses or addictions. Many families tried to get treatment for those with mental illness but would call provider after provider only to be told there was nothing available. FAST learned that on the website for our social services helpline, 2-1-1, they list over 90 numbers that people should call to try to find mental health help. FAST began asking for central pathway that ensures EVERYONE has one easy way to get the help they need. At the Action in 2019, the County Administrator and two key mental health funders to agree to work together to create a central pathway for receiving mental health services in Pinellas County! The providers in Pinellas gathered, and they came up with a plan which includes a central pathway as well as other improvements to the provision of behavioral health services. We will continue to ensure that whatever solution they approve includes a central pathway for receiving behavioral health services.
FAST also heard stories from those who felt they had been pulled over because of the color of their skin. Through research, FAST found out that the St. Petersburg police, Clearwater police, and Sheriff’s office all accept complaints from community members about racial profiling. However, in St. Pete and the Sheriff’s office there had been no complaints of racial profiling in 2018. FAST realized that either community members did not know they could report such things, or they did not feel comfortable doing so. In order to fix this, FAST created “Law Enforcement Interaction Cards” for community members to fill out and turn into FAST. FAST keeps their contact information but passes the complaint on to law enforcement anonymously. In May 2019, the three police leaders listed above came to our Joshua Assembly and affirmed their commitment to investigate any complaints regarding racial profiling.
Since then, FAST has realized that we need to clarify what we mean by “investigate.” Chief Holloway and Chief Slaughter both shared with us that they regularly look at data regarding traffic stops and other officer interactions to make sure there are no patterns of discrimination or bias. In our follow up conversations with them over the next few weeks, we will be confirming that they will do this same type of review of an officer if there is a complaint about racial profiling or discrimination.
FAST encourages all members of the community to report incidents with law enforcement officers to the appropriate department as soon as possible. Law Enforcement Interaction cards are available by clicking this link. We also encourage everyone to keep an interaction card on hand so that it is easily accessible to you should you need it. Please email the completed form to: FAST!
3. Youth Suspensions and Arrests
FAST has heard many stories from parents who were frustrated by excessive student suspensions in our schools, and from teachers who felt that they did not have an alternative to those out-of-school suspensions. FAST identified a solution: Restorative Justice Practices.
The Pinellas County School District has began the introduction of Restorative Practices to all schools in 2018. When schools embrace Restorative Practices to build school climates of trust, children in turn learn how to effectively manage conflict and are held accountable for their actions. Additionally, by embracing Restorative Practices instead of the zero tolerance policies of the past, students are able to stay within the learning environment. However, despite an ambitious start, Restorative Practices have not yet been fully implemented in the district.
Currently, PCS trains staff to use restorative practices through the “Train the Trainer” model. This mean that one or two people from each school is trained, and then is responsible for coming back and training the rest of their school colleagues to use restorative practices. We know from our research, however, that successfully implementing restorative practices requires a culture change in the school that – in addition to intensive training – requires three things:
A. Restorative Conferencing – this a key component necessary for the implementation of Restorative Practices to be successful. This is not happening in any Pinellas Schools. Training must be made available for a group of school administrators and social workers so that they can effectively start using this Tier III intervention to address more serious behavior infractions.
B. Monthly coaching and follow-up training, provided by experts, for RP trainers in each school to help them guide their school’s RP implementation.
C. A full evaluation plan that sets standards for implementation and outcomes, with detailed processes for collecting data on RP implementation.
FAST continues to work with all stakeholders on this issue to ensure that these three things are embraced by the district and that Restorative Practices are implemented fully in Pinellas County Schools.
If you would like to receive more information about FAST, speak to a local FAST Representative, Join a FAST Team,
please contact the church office (727) 576-5508 or email Pastor John Rice.