Leon officials approve $6.2M in federal funds toward homeless services
At a joint workshop of the Leon County and Tallahassee City commissions on homelessness and affordable housing, commissioners approved $6.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for related services.
“This is a game changer, but it’s not the end,” Mayor John Dailey said. The meeting was held Tuesday morning at City Hall.
The money will be split among the Big Bend Continuum of Care (BBCoC), which serves an eight-county region, and the Community Human Services Partnership (CHSP). It’s intended to streamline homeless services, add beds and leverage local funding to make the region more competitive when seeking federal funding.
Tallahassee has seen a 29% decrease in overall homelessness and a 56% decrease in homeless youth since 2015, according to a collaborative report by the city, county and the BBCoC. The number of homeless veterans, however, has increased 13% and what’s called “chronic homelessness” increased by 3%.
The report recommended that with the $6.2 million in ARPA funding, the county and city commissions sign a contract with the BBCoC for $1.4 million for homelessness initiatives and to establish a new Homeless Services Category under the CHSP and allocate $3,075,000 for the 2023 and 2024 fiscal years.
CHSP is a bi-annual allocation split by the city and county that goes toward funding programs run by nonprofit organizations which provide community benefit. Organizations submit applications for consideration of funding.
The rest of the ARPA funding, or $1.7 million, will support the county’s homeless shelters, including Kearney Center, Capital City Youth Services, Big Bend Homeless Coalition and Refuge House.
“With these funds we have the opportunity to make some significant inroads and help those struggling with homelessness, but we still have a lot of work to do,” County Commission Chairman Rick Minor said.
Amanda Wander, executive director of the BBCoC, said the $6.2 million will help but will only provide an eighth of the funding they need to meet their goals in their 2025 strategic plan.
“Our biggest gaps are in regards to permanent supportive housing,” Wander said. “We need to figure out how are we going to keep these people in housing after this, and we need to figure out how we’re going to designate and bring in more recurring funding.”
Read more on homelessness from the pages of the Tallahassee Democrat:
At any typical night in Tallahassee, there are about 620 people living on the streets, Wander said. It could be someone sleeping outside or in a shelter, unaccompanied youth or someone fleeing domestic violence.
County Commissioner Kristin Dozier was concerned about how quickly the funds can be allocated. Funds given to the CHSP couldn’t be dispersed until October 2022. “We’ve got challenges right now,” she said. “We have incredible need.”
She made a motion to make the BBCoC the agency in charge of the funds because they are already recognized by HUD as the regional planning and oversight organization for Leon, Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Liberty, Madison, Taylor and Wakulla counties.
Her motion was not seconded and died.
Wander agreed that the BBCoC could use the funds now, but said that the recommendations wouldn’t delay services.
“We have to come up with a compromise with the city and county about the funds, what’s dedicated, and how much of an investment in what areas will make the best and biggest impact,” Wander said.
Commissioners wanted time to look into innovative options, like creating a camp for Tallahassee’s unhoused population and better ways to help homeless veterans.
Julie Savoy, who has been homeless for two weeks, said a place for people to stay without fear of being arrested for trespassing would benefit the homeless community.
Savoy, who has experienced homelessness in the past, said there used to be more options for good hot food before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, it’s a struggle to get meals consistently.
“Nobody wants to eat chips every day,” she said.
Her ID card, Social Security card and purse were stolen recently, and she’s trying to get replacements but doesn’t know where to start. Her mother is trying to send her money through Western Union, but she said she can’t get it without identification.
“A lot of people, they’re stuck here,” she said. “What can you do without (an ID card)? You can’t do anything. I can’t even get mail.”
Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at AGoniLessan@tallahassee.com and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.
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