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DCF grants $6.9 million to aid state’s homeless; Two grants awarded to Lee County

By Staff | Sep 24, 2008

Lee County’s homeless and disaffected population got a financial boost from the Department of Children and Families on Tuesday as part of $6.9 million worth of grants issued statewide.

The county received two grants — a Homeless Housing Assistance grant worth $191,900 and a Challenge grant worth $57, 600 — that will aid a variety of agencies including the Salvation Army, Southwest Florida Addiction Services, Lee County Department of Human Services and Community Cooperative Ministries.

The Challenge grant will be split equally among the four agencies at $15,000 a piece for clothing, food, addiction services and outreach counseling.

The entirety of the housing assistance grant will go to Southwest Florida Addiction Services, which will rebuild its transitional housing facility from the ground up.

Currently, the facility can house up to nine women, but will accommodate 16 after renovations are complete.

Rose Mary Boisvert, managing director of the transitional living center, said the SWFAS building will be demolished to make way for the new facility, tentatively scheduled to be complete in June 2009. The current center was built in 1949.

Boisvert added that 60 percent of all women who come to SWFAS for help are victims of domestic or sexual violence, and are homeless upon admission.

“In any given year, we will serve about 60 women in this house,” Boisvert said. “We do a lot of wonderful things to help them get established in their life again, by helping them to develop a support system.”

The DCF grant came “just in time,” according to Boisvert. SWFAS’s new housing facility — at a total cost of $602,267 — is being partially funded by a grant from the state housing initiative program. That grant, totaling $350,000, was in danger of reverting back to the state if the remainder of the funding was not reached.

“We were in jeopardy of having to give the state grant back,” Boisvert said. “This was just in time. We’re so grateful.”

DCF estimates there are 60,000 homeless people statewide, including more than 20,000 children.

In a phone interview from Tallahassee on Tuesday, DCF’s Sarah Troncoso said the grants will aid one-third of the homeless population, about 23,000 people, although the agency received far more requests than it is able to accommodate.

“We received requests for over $10 million, and that was for only one grant, the Housing Assistance Grant,” she said. “That shows you the need is greater than the resources.”

Troncoso said the applications are evaluated by DCF staff, which looks for criteria such as who has the greatest need for housing the homeless, who will build the greatest number of housing units and who is utilizing other public and private funds for their particular projects.

While it is nearly impossible, Troncoso said DCF evaluators try their best to meet the needs of every agency that requests grant assistance.

“If they’re submitting an application, there’s obviously a need,” she said. “It’s extremely difficult. We’re trying to do the best we can to serve.”