Lela Lilyquist is not your average political candidate.
For one thing, she's more intense than most people you'll ever come across. The Brandon-based homeless provider and health store owner is on a mission to help the less fortunate in Hillsborough County. She says she was calling out the problems with the county's Homeless Recovery Program long before the Tampa Bay Times
got on the case last year, and she's running for County Commission because she says the current batch of lawmakers still don't get it.
But she's running out of time.
"I might not even make it on the ballot," the District 4 GOP candidate admitted when speaking in CL's Ybor City offices last week. "I'm here to tell you I have 600 petitions signed. I'm an advocate to do good in our community. I'm not a politician." Lilyquist needs to have a total of 1,896 signatures signed on a petition by Monday, May 19.
The woman knows about the homeless, though her platform isn't exclusively about that particular issue. She says she supports incorporating Brandon, because she says it's the biggest city in the county that gets the least amount of revenue for its infrastructure.
But it's her frustrations with county staff that have compelled her to get more involved. And she's plenty involved. In 2008 she founded Portamento of Hope, a soup kitchen that offers free meals along with to-go meals; it has a thrift store offering clothing and household goods and has a fresh produce market.
"This is what we're supposed to be doing," she says of her work. "This is what's wrong with the country. We're supposed to be masters of servitude. We're supposed to be doing the right thing in our lives."
Lilyquist speaks extremely rapidly and is filled with righteous indignation. She says the Times
articles exposed what she had been saying in meetings with county officials for years, but she got nowhere. Specifically she mentions the Good Samaritan Inn, the 68-bedroom boarding house on N. Florida Avenue outed in a Times story last October as being an egregious place for housing the homeless.
"I started bringing this up in February and March of 2013, " she recalls, during discussions with officials in the Homeless Recovery Program. "The first time I talked about this I was told you've gotta shut keep your mouth shut because they [those enrolled in the homeless program] won't have a place to stay."
Lilyquist says that Good Samaritan lacked sanitary conditions. "The kitchens had no screens on the windows, there were fleas everywhere. We had to wear long sleeves and buttoned-up shirts because when we were there, there were bites all over us."
The county closed down its Homeless Recovery Program last December, and has now contracted with private entities like Metropolitan Ministries to provide emergency shelter for homeless women and families. Lilyquist calls it a "step in the right direction," saying that there were simply no checks and balances with the program ran by the County.
The District 4 seat is currently held by Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who is being term-limited out of the district and is now running for the countywide District 7 seat. Janet Doughtery, Rick Cochran and Stacy White are also battling it out on the Republican side; the lone Democrat in the race this year is Donna Lee Fore.
If you want to sign Lilyquist's petition to help her get on the ballot, you're going to have to come to her store, Nature's Health Foods, at 401 South Parsons Avenue Suite A in Brandon.