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Expert panel presents the "state of homelessness" in Lakeland

Several local experts this morning gave an overview of homelessness in Lakeland and what is happening at social service agencies and schools to address it. The session, sponsored by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, was moderated by City Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley.


Panelists were Teresa Maio, (Lakeland's) Planning and Housing Manager, Laura Lee Gwinn, Executive Director, Homeless Coalition of Polk County Inc., Ben Ruch, Homeless Liaison, The Hearth Project | Polk County Public Schools, and Brenda Reddout, Executive Director, Talbot House Ministries.

The event was held at Lakeland Regional Health’s Hollis Cancer Center Auditorium. Presenting sponsors were Central Florida Health Care, Givewell Community Foundation and United Way of Central Florida.

City Homelessness Efforts

Evolve in Second Year

Marilyn Meyer



December 16, 2019  -  In its first year, the city’s rapid re-housing program found permanent housing for 114 Lakelanders who if not already homeless were on the verge of eviction, Mayor Bill Mutz said.


Now the city needs to sign off on paperwork to provide the promised $103,000 so the program administrator, Tri-County Human Services, qualifies for additional grant funding to continue the program for another year.


The Ledger endorses program
to combat homelessness

"The amount involved is essentially equivalent to a rounding error in the city budget. If caseworkers cannot demonstrate continued success in turning lives around a year from now, then halt it and think of something else. But based on what it’s shown so far, Lakeland should stick with it for another budget cycle."


WATCH THE VIDEO or READ THE BLOG for a look at the impact

Commissioners listen and learn more about plans to sell city owned property - at market value - to developers who will create affordable housing.



City unveils affordable housing proposals

Cary McMullen



Jun 28, 2019  -  Led by Mayor Bill Mutz, a majority of the City Commission expressed enthusiastic support for a series of groundbreaking steps to address the issue of affordable housing in Lakeland during a policy workshop today.

“We are not unique in the problems of the nation on this area of affordable housing, but we have to do Lakeland,” Mutz said in opening the workshop. “This is a sidewalk we can sweep.”


Commissioners pledge to add housing for homeless kids

Cary McMullen



April 3, 2019  -  At a rousing faith-based rally Tuesday night, four Lakeland city commissioners pledged to reach a goal of adding 500 housing units for families with homeless children by 2023.


Mayor Bill Mutz and commissioners Stephanie Madden, Justin Troller and Phillip Walker drew cheers for their pledges from the approximately 1,400 participants at the 19th annual Nehemiah Action rally of the Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment, or PEACE, at Resurrection Catholic Church in Lakeland.


The video opens with a brief montage of comments followed by the complete, unedited discussion.

Red-light Camera surplus
Commission funds first year of
mayor's homelessness initiative

City commissioners, meeting in a policy workshop on Friday, set aside $190,000 of the red-light camera fund surplus to launch a downtown Lakeland homelessness initiative championed by Mayor Bill Mutz but rejected by the full commission during the final annual budget hearings in September.

The vote was 4-3 with Mutz and commissioners Troller, Walker, and Selvage voting in favor. Commissioners Read, Madden, and Franklin continued their opposition. 


Selvage, who left the commission in January, is sitting in for former commissioner Michael Dunn until a special election in January decides on a permanent successor. Selvage held the seat for two terms and was nominated to fill in by a 6-1 commission vote on Monday. He has pledged not to seek election.

"Lakeland must rethink its perpetual homeless problem" A letter to The Ledger  READ IT HERE

Seeley debuted a video that explains his vision for Gospel Town. The video, created by Randall Productions, opens by introducing viewers to Michelle, a woman who speaks candidly about others trying to take advantage of her disabilities during her eight years living on the street.

Gospel Inc. Unveils Vision for
Tiny-House Village for Homeless

Barry Firedman



Two Lakeland leaders with a passion to reduce homelessness shared their visions for the paths forward with a crowd of 450 tonight at a Gospel Inc. “friend raiser.” For Mayor Bill Mutz, it was a goal of a city government working alongside social service agencies to lead the transitional homeless into housing and productive lives.


For Brian Seeley, founder of Gospel Inc., it was a night to introduce his vision of Gospel Town, a tiny-house community supporting the chronic homeless.


Barry Friedman


Mayor Bill Mutz is convinced that four steps recommended by a local steering committee will significantly reduce homelessness in Lakeland. On Friday morning, he tried to convince his colleagues on the City Commission that the plan needs the city’s financial backing, but several of them questioned whether government should take the lead on the homeless issue.


The full discussion which lasts about an hour can be seen here in its entirety.

Committee vows to regroup, continue

Allison Guinn

The Ledger


LAKELAND — With frustration came candor Tuesday afternoon as the members of the city’s homelessness committee discussed the denial of their proposal by the Lakeland City Commission last week.

And then came a vow to regroup, reconnect and continue.

Mayor Bill Mutz, who leads the committee, took the $195,000 proposal to the City Commission late last month hoping to get it included in the city’s $129 million general fund budget. It was shot down by one vote Thursday, with Mutz and Commissioners Phillip Walker and Justin Troller forming the minority in support.


Editorial: Lakeland should continue the discussion of downtown homelessness
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Seemingly leading with his heart, Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz is advocating more action by the city to address the intractable problem of downtown homelessness. It’s an issue he understands first-hand.

Six months ago, during a presentation by school district officials — who stated that nearly 3,900 homeless children attend public schools throughout Polk County — the mayor shared that he had sheltered in his own house 

a homeless family of five for the past 18 months. At that gathering, Mutz pledged to seek ways to help these families, by, among other ideas, consulting with housing experts to locate 500 housing units over the next five years.

More recently, Mutz determined that action was needed on a proposal from a city-hired consultant that had studied the downtrodden residing on downtown streets.



"I think it’s time for us to invest in trying, and I think we have a good plan.”

Christopher Guinn

The Ledger

LAKELAND — Lakeland’s mayor intends to make another plea for the homeless and the $195,000-a-year program intended to help get them off the streets.

Mayor Bill Mutz’s bid, recently unveiled to the rest of the City Commission in a workshop, met firm resistance from a four-member majority reluctant to get the city so closely involved with a social service, typically the purview of the county government and nonprofit organizations.


Watch the full, formal presentation to the City Commission at the August 20th meeting here

The slides will advance automatically every four seconds.

Click any image to view at your own pace.

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