What is FAST?
FAST is a congregation-based community organizing group in Pinellas County, FL. Our mission is to engage people of diverse faiths in a process of listening, planning, action, and reflection in order to build power and address the root causes of injustice in Pinellas County.
Presently FAST has 52 member congregations representing over 50,000 individual members. We come from all parts of Pinellas County and are comprised of diverse racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds.
What we do
We come together annually in large public actions to press officials to implement solutions to community problems. In 2023 we brought together over 1,200 people to press for justice. Our current campaigns include working to fix Pinellas County’s housing crisis, pushing local criminal justice actors to expand the adult pre-arrest diversion program, and holding local government accountable to address Red Tide and other water quality problems. Accomplishments since 2005 include:
Over the past few years, we have pushed the School District to stop using a zero-tolerance discipline policy that pushes children down the school-to-prison pipeline. We got the school district to implement Restorative Practices in all schools. We got the district to sign a $500,000 contract with the International Institute for Restorative Practices to ensure all school teachers and staff have training and support to implement restorative practices well.
In 2012 Florida arrested 78,195 youth and 73,371 were for non-violent offenses. At this time, Florida arrested more of our youth than California or Texas and arrested double the percentage of our youth in comparison to New York. The state 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 offered this program to their youth. In 2018, in partnership with other DART organizations in Florida, we got the state legislature to pass a bill that requires each district court to set up a civil citation program for youth. Over the last five years, because of our work, over 30,000 have avoided lifelong arrest records and instead gotten the help they need. As of now, Pinellas County gives over 96% of eligible children access to this important juvenile diversion program.
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 and make less than 200% of the poverty level. As 2021, over 15,000 low-income 4-year-olds in Pinellas County had been able to attend a full-day of Pre-K because of this funding.
In 2006, FAST secured commitments from all 7 county commissioners to support $19.2 million for an affordable housing trust fund. This created 1,469 new units. In 2015, we got them to commit another $15 million, which has already created another 736 units.
In the 2010-2020 cycle of the Penny for Pinellas tax, the County spent only 1% of the tax on affordable housing. When the tax came up for vote in 2017, FAST pushed our County Commission to spend 4.15% of the tax on affordable housing. Though initially resistant, a majority of Commissioners agreed to spend 4.15% of affordable housing. This is estimated to be $82.5 million. So far, over $20 million of this is already spent and over 500 units specifically for lower income families are under construction.
Five years ago, FAST decided to work with our 10 DART-affiliated sister organizations in the state of Florida to reduce the number of youths in Florida who are arrested for non-serious offenses. The state created a program called Civil Citations through which local law enforcement can divert youth to community-based programs without giving them criminal records. Youth who go through such programs face consequences for their actions. They do community service, make restitution to victims and the community, and complete whatever interventions are deemed necessary to change their behavior. Youth in the civil citations program are three times less likely to get into trouble again as youth who are arrested for the same infractions. Because of our work over the last 5 years, 23,255 children in Florida were NOT arrested for first-time for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses and instead got access to a civil citation. This means that we have saved the state over $104 million dollars by reducing youth arrests. Further, Pinellas County has gone from 80% of children receiving access to diversion program to 97% (the highest in the state)! In our county, over 800 fewer children have been arrested because of our work!
In 2011, Dr. Law, President of St. Petersburg College (SPC), responded to the concerns of FAST by creating the Learn to Earn Program. This program created short-term, affordable training opportunities such as industry certification and licensures. Since 2011, the workforce institute has served over 30,000 participants. As of 2019, over 9,000 industry certifications and licensures have been awarded. Additionally, as of 2017, there were over 4,500 successful job placements for students who participated in over 60 SPC certificate programs.
After five years of work, the St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously in 2015 to pass the disadvantaged worker ordinance, designed to ensure that for construction contracts of over $2 million, 10% of work hours will go to formerly incarcerated people or individuals who have been on public assistance in the last year. To date, almost 10,000 hours have been logged by 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 which serve an additional 1,900 per year.
In 2014 we successfully got the County Commissioners to allocate $958,000 of reoccurring funding into the county budget for dental care. This will result in 1,600 more people getting access to dental care each year. In total 3,500 more will be able to get access to comprehensive dental care in Pinellas County because of our efforts.
In 2016, we got the County Commission to allocate a pilot program for the most severally mentally ill citizens of Pinellas County. This program, called Housing First, gives the program members housing and support services to prevent them from cycling between hospitals, jails, and the streets due to mental illness. This program was funded for over $900,000 and was awarded by the White House for its effectiveness.
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.