Faith and Action for Strength Together
Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) is a congregation-based community organization in Pinellas County, Florida, whose purpose is to train low- to moderate-income residents from diverse congregations to work together to identify root causes of community problems and take action on these problems. Through FAST, diverse people come together to powerfully address the needs in their own communities.
In 2015, over 2600 came to our Nehemiah Assembly at Tropicana field to stand up for justice in our community. Our accomplishments since 2005 include:
-We got our county transportation agency, PSTA, to upgrade many of the bus stops to provide shelter and more safety for their riders, especially senior citizens.
-FAST got the Director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization to create a new, one-number system for senior transportation. This new system, unveiled in March 2006, works with the Area Agency for Aging and allows seniors to speak directly with a trained professional who can help them with their transportation needs. There are over 20,500 seniors in Pinellas County who do not drive and who will benefit from this new system.
Reducing youth arrests
-In 2014 we succeeded in getting an agreement signed between the School District and the various police municipalities across Pinellas County. This agreement was focused on reducing youth arrests in schools and highlighting other alternatives to be used.
-In the summer of 2014, for the first time ever all School Resource Officers participated in a mandatory training around alternatives to arresting students. So far in the 2014-15 school year, there has been about a 30% reduction in arrests as compared to the 2013-14 school year.
-In 2012 Florida arrested 78,195 youth and 73,371 were for non-violent offenses. Florida arrests more of our youth than California or Texas and we arrest double the percentage of our youth in comparison to New York. A Tampa Bay Times investigation found many children in Florida getting arrested while in school for relatively minor offenses. The state has created a program called Civil Citations through which local law enforcement can divert youth to community-based programs without giving them criminal records. The recidivism rate for this program is only 4%, and it saves over $4,500 per case, yet not all communities in Florida offer this program to their youth. In 2015, FAST and our sister organizations across Florida in the DART network got a bill passed through the state legislature that expanded use of the Civil Citation program to 2nd or 3rd time nonviolent misdemeanors. We are currently working with to pass statewide legislation to expand access to civil citations for thousands of youth across the state.
-In 2005, we secured commitments from the director of the Early Learning Coalition to provide funding for a full-day of Pre-K for any child whose parents are working am make less than 200% of the poverty level. To date over 7,000 low-income 4-year-olds in Pinellas County have been able to attend Pre-K because of this funding.
-We continue to put pressure on the school district to reduce school-based arrests and suspensions. From the 2013-14 school year to the 2014-15 school year, the total number of arrests went from 634 to 441, a 30% reduction. Since we started pushing for a reduction in out of school suspensions in 2014, there has been a 40% reduction in the number of suspensions.
-In 2006, FAST secured commitments from all 7 county commissioners to support an affordable housing trust fund. To date, $19.2 million has been allocated to the fund creating 1469 new units. We continue to monitor the progress on the funding for the trust fund.
-When County Commissioners asked voters to pass the Penny for Pinellas Tax in 2007, they promised that $30 million of that tax (3.7%) would go towards the affordable housing land trust. They said they would allocate $3 million a year to affordable housing for each of the 10 years of the Penny tax. However, after voters passed the tax, they did not follow through on this commitment. Because of the hard work of FAST $15 million of this commitment has been reinstated and $10 million will be available to be spent in the coming year.
Drugs and Crime
– We got the state legislature to enact legislation allowing 4,000 non-violent offenders to attend locally based drug treatment rather than go to prison. It is estimated that this will save the state $92 million in prison costs.
-In 2011 Dr. Law, President of St. Petersburg College, responded to the concerns of FAST by creating the Learn to Earn Program. This program created short term, affordable, certificate programs to prepare people for jobs in fields which are currently hiring. Since 2011, 2,170 certificates have been earned in fields such as Orthotic Fitter and Security Officer.
– In the spring of 2015, the St. Petersburg City Council passed a Jobs Ordinance. This requires 10% of all work hours for city contracts over $2 million to go to ex-offenders or disadvantaged workers.
-About 200,000 adults in Pinellas County lack access to affordable dental care. In Pinellas County for people living at 100% of the Federal Poverty Line, which for a family of 4 is a household income of $23,050, most can get covered for only ‘relief of pain’ services – mostly extractions. After two years of hard work by FAST members, in 2013 three dental clinics were added. In 2014 we successfully got the County Commissioners to allocate $958,000 of reoccurring funding into the county budget for dental care In total 3,500 more will be able to get access to comprehensive dental care in Pinellas County because of our efforts.
-In 2015, FAST presented the County Commissioners with concerns about the lack of mental health services in Pinellas County. The County agreed to fund a $963,000 pilot program that helps the most chronic users of emergency mental health services. By focusing on prevention, this program is expected to save the county over $2 million.
– In Pinellas County, 2-1-1 is the hotline for all residents who need social services, including crisis intervention for rape and suicide. Through our research we found that people were waiting as long as 45 minutes for access to a dispatcher at 2-1-1. Before the 2015 Nehemiah Action the County allocated an additional $700,000 to 2-1-1 to begin to address this need and FAST secured a commitment from the director of 2-1-1 they should work to implement a “warm hand-off” system for the adult callers in order to directly connect adults to services as they do for families.
Presently FAST has 38 member congregations representing over 50,000 individual members. We come from all parts of Pinellas County and are comprised of a diverse mix of persons by race, economic class, and religious traditions.
P.O. Box 10421
St. Petersburg, FL 33733