In December, the city of Pensacola allocated about $1.5 million in federal relief funds to address homelessness.
Now, just over three months later, several programs are already up and running and several more shelters are expected to come online in the coming months to provide dozens of additional beds for the homeless.
In addition to new shelter spaces, the funding also helped city partners launch or expand a range of social and case management services.
Pensacola has faced a critical homelessness problem experts say, exacerbated by the pandemic, and it has resulted in an unregulated encampment within city limits under the Interstate 110 bridge.
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This encampment on city property – which sometimes contained hundreds of campers – created a civic discussion about how best to solve the problem. The talks led to the Pensacola City Council allocating a portion of its $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help local organizations start programs or shelters to help provide long-term solutions.
Although there were a multitude of requests, the council ultimately only allocated around half of the funds and said at the time that the aim was to tackle “heads in beds” and to get people off the streets and then they would consider allocating the rest for organic farming. the next step needs down the line.
In many cases where shelters were funded, the city council opted to allocate funding to salaries or leases rather than construction, which was a way to expedite the opening of shelters by avoiding having to use the city’s sometimes lengthy procurement process to obtain quotes and approvals for renovations.
Homeless advocates say the problem is still prevalent, though thanks to the resources and work of the Northwest Florida Homelessness Reduction Task Force, progress has been made over the months that followed the closure of the I-110 camp.
Here is an overview of the destination of the money:
The Re-Entry Alliance of Pensacola received the largest sum of money – $400,000 to launch a holistic day center at 2200 N. Palafox St.
The organization immediately created a “safe outdoor space” camp on West Blount Street which now houses around 30 campers. It’s a much more regulated site than the I-110 site, according to REAP executive director Vinnie Whibbs, because it’s gated with rules and regulations, no drugs or alcohol, and there’s a guard. on-site night shifts as well as two full-time managers throughout the day.
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The North Palafox Street site is being repaired, but Whibbs said it was going through the permitting process and initial demolition work.
“We think in 60 days it will be ready,” he said. “There will be 39 rooms there, but it could hold more people than that because, for example, there could be a family of a few people sharing a room.”
BRIGHT BRIDGE MINISTRIES
Bright Bridge Ministries’ 30-bed men’s shelter is also under construction, but is expected to welcome clients from early April.
Bright Bridge Executive Director Robin Noble said that from this week finishing works are taking place on site and once city approvals are granted they are ready to start housing immediately. This will be Bridge Bridge’s first time running an emergency shelter, but she said there was already a waiting list.
“At this point, we have only worked with men coming out of drug and addiction programs to help them transition, but with money from the city and the opening of our new wing, it will be an emergency shelter for any man to come in for a week or two,” she said. “It’s really exciting and we can’t wait to get it open and running, it wouldn’t be happened at all without this funding.”
Bright Bridge Ministries received a grant of $281,400 to establish the shelter.
CHILDREN’S HOME SOCIETY
With its funding allocation of approximately $135,000, the Children’s Home Society launched a pilot program to engage master’s and bachelor’s level social work students in outreach to homeless youth. The funding pays part of a clinical director’s salary for two years to oversee the program, which CHS CEO Lindsey Cannon said was launched almost immediately after funding was approved.
“Some of the things we’re seeing is that we don’t have a ready-to-learn-out-of-school workforce that really understands youth homelessness,” she said. “We know a lot of times these students or out of school young people are in hiding, they’re couch surfers and a lot of times they’re really out of touch because people don’t always know they’re homeless while they’re still showing up at school or live in their car. We needed a trained workforce to hire them.
The CHS has five interns currently working on outreach and engagement and has been working for a few months at a more executive level to develop a pilot intern program. There are five case managers and coordinators on the full-time staff split across two shifts, so adding interns essentially doubles the headcount, Cannon said.
“Our team is small, so for them to have someone with them and to allow them to do more work on the ground in canvassing and trying to locate and engage young people, that has really expanded our team.” , she said.
LAKEVIEW MOBILE UNIT
Lakeview is using a $300,000 stipend to launch a mobile unit that connects homeless people to resources such as on-site mental health assessments and drug distribution, which its leaders say has already made a difference.
About two months into the program, Lakeview Emergency Services Director Carolyn Shearman said the Homeless Assessment Response Team – also known as the HEART Unit – has already recorded about 250 encounters with homeless people, although some of them are regular customers.
She said some people need an ID or social security card to access services, for example, which Lakeview was able to help coordinate.
“They’ll say, ‘I have a prescription I can’t pay’ or ‘I can’t get to the pharmacy,'” she said, adding that the mobile unit had in some cases eliminated the transport obstacle by submitting a request for a prescription in a camp and then picking up the drugs for the client.
Lakeview’s specialist programs director, Dr Irvin Williams, said often times mental health issues and addictions issues occur simultaneously and it can sometimes take several outreach efforts to build enough trust for people. ask for help. Lakeview staff have found that addressing mental health and addictions issues will require more resources than the region currently has.
“As a community, we have a pretty good continuum overall, but we lack (rehab) beds, for example, and opportunities for people who need those kinds of services. So it’s a system-wide gap that we found,” he said.
Shearman said the funding could take the HEART unit through 2024 depending on how quickly they use resources, such as paying for drugs, for example.
Pensacola Dream Center
With about a month left to complete work on its shelter, Canopy of Hope, the Pensacola Dream Center will soon begin housing four women at a time as they recover from issues such as domestic violence, human trafficking human beings and drug addiction.
With a $300,000 stipend spread over three years, city funding helps pay salaries, freeing up funds to bring the shelter to life sooner than they otherwise would have, said Terri Merrick, director executive of the Dream Center.
Since 2017, the center has run a program serving women using a coach model that pairs each woman with a volunteer coach who helps them create a roadmap to get back on track for the long term.
“You’re not going to go out and force homeless people to do anything or be anything, but if we can get them thinking and realizing that there could be a different future, that will change everything for them,” Merrick said. “We want to create an atmosphere where whether women are coming off the streets or out of jail or being referred, they are entering a place where they can catch their breath.”
Merrick said she expects the shelter to open by the end of April depending on the construction schedule and final inspections.
In addition to the five approved projects, the city council has also allocated $180,000 to be distributed among homeless organizations to fund hotel stays for the homeless while waiting for housing or shelter to become available. City spokeswoman Kaycee Lagarde said this week that the first $90,000 of that fund has been allocated to be used as needed.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at [email protected] or 850-480-6979.