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With homelessness surging since Hurricane Ian, Continuum of Care grant addresses needs

Lee County is using $2 million to fight homelessness. The problem has gotten much worse since Hurricane Ian, according to the Lee homeless coalition.

Commissioners have approved aContinuum of Care grant to fight homelessness in Lee County.

The more than $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be distributed in various ways.

This funding will be distributed by Human and Veteran Services and local non profit agencies to provide over 560 people with information, referrals, housing and supportive services. The Continuum of Care grant has been accepted and used in the county since 1995.

For fiscal years 2023 and 2024, the funding will go to different projects including five permanent supportive housing projects operated by Community Assisted and Supported Living (CASL). Other funding will provide case management, permanent supportive housing, and rental assistance for people with a persistent mental illness who have been homeless for long periods of time.

“Our goal is to provide safe, stable housing for individuals who are struggling to maintain housing or even have housing at all,” P.J. Brooks, Chief Operating Officer of CASL, said. “For many of our residents, this is their chance to have long term stability in their lives, to be able to thrive.”

Through a portion of the funding, CASL will help individuals who are coming out of homelessness pay rent. Brooks said that most of those individuals have little to no income.

The funding will also provide case management and other supportive housing services. This might include helping someone schedule a doctor’s appointment and helping them get transportation.

Since so many people were displaced by Hurricane Ian, Brooks said the Continuum of Care grant will provide additional support to bring people into housing.

“If you can bring someone into safe, stable housing and provide them the services they need, they're substantially less likely to return to homelessness and maintain their stability and continue actually being productive,” he said.

Some people have disabling conditions that don’t allow them to work, which is how they became homeless in the first place.

Because of this, a portion of the Continuum of Care grant will go towards something similar to an assisted living facility.

“There's a number of individuals that are in homelessness that are struggling so much that they do not have the ability to maintain independent living,” Brooks said.

CASL is working to create a small scale facility where older people and people with debilitating conditions can have 24/7 care.

“It's similar to what you would see what most of us would think of an [assisted living facility] for like senior citizens, but these are for individuals who just need that extra support and care from our team,” Brooks said.

With another portion of the funds from the Continuum of Care grant, the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice (DOV) will also provide rental subsidies and supportive services for 30 households who have survived domestic violence.

Eddie Gloria, the Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., said victims of domestic violence often find themselves displaced or homeless because of their circumstances.

The way the rental subsidies will work, he said, is by making a commitment to help the victim over a certain number of months depending on the specific needs of the person. Over time, the subsidy declines as the person becomes more independent.

“Our hope is that this rapid rehousing intervention will reach those that really need it, that it will greatly improve their lives, and that people will be able to stand up on their own two feet,” he said.

Cristy King, a Regional Director at Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., spoke about the issue. “The goal is to help victims regain their sense of normality as well," she said. "It's a need not just in Lee County or Florida, but in all cities, countries or, you know, these towns, villages across the country."

King said this could involve helping someone get their children back into school and leading them into stable living conditions.

The rental subsidies can help families for up to 18 months depending on the situation.

While the county agenda said the subsidies will help 30 households, King said this is an approximate number.

The number of families that receive assistance is based on monthly rental cost, how much Catholic Charities DOV pays for that, and how long each household is enrolled in the program.

A case manager also will work with families to help them become reestablished and get them connected to other resources.

“Hopefully [this program will] get them stabilized, so that when the rental assistance ends, they are, you know, in a self-sufficient situation,” King said. “And can then maintain their rental payments on their own.”

Eddie Gloria said that in a similar program, a single mother who experienced abuse came to Catholic Charities DOV for help. She was able to put her child in a stable daycare situation and she finished some education.

Once she finished her education, Gloria said the mother moved out of the system at Catholic Charities DOV and moved to New York with her child. The mother obtained a high-paying job, according to Gloria.

“[The] ability [to recover] for a brief period of time is exactly what she needed to get herself into a better situation and in a good trajectory for her and her child,” Gloria said.

The mother was not named to protect her privacy.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 728 people in Lee County are homeless on any given night. There are 9.8 people without a home per 10,000 people in the general population.

Cheri Lynn Arnold, the Administrative Assistant at the Lee County Homeless Coalition, said homelessness in Lee County has doubled since Hurricane Ian.

She believes the county will see the effects of Hurricane Ian through homeless people for years to come.

“Homelessness happens every day. The rent increase on a yearly basis has nearly doubled what it used to be,” Arnold said. “We have homeless camps everywhere and we have a team that goes out there and we provide [homeless people] with the tents and the hygiene kits, things like that, that just you and I every day would take for granted.”

Arnold said people from all walks of life are needed to fight the problem.

“We would never be able to do this alone,” Arnold said.

Anyone who wants to volunteer with the Lee County Homeless Coalition can find information on its website here.

This story was reported and written for FGCU Journalism's Democracy Watch class. Katie Fogarty can be reached at knfogarty4088@eagle.fgcu.edu,
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