DCF dishes out $500,000 in grants to area agencies
The Department of Children and Families gave out $500,000 worth of grants Wednesday afternoon to local agencies that deal with homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness.
Problems like homelessness do not exist in a vacuum, advocates explained at the presentation. If a person is homeless, it is likely they are affected by substance abuse, a diagnosis of a mental disorder or both.
DCF doled out grants to eight agencies in Lee and Collier counties. The Lee County Board of County Commissioners gave $14,400 in grants to Living Independently For Today, The Salvation Army of Lee County, Community Cooperative Ministries Inc. and Southwest Florida Addiction Services.
“Thousands don’t have a home,” said Cookie Coleman, circuit administrator for DCF. “We all recognize this year is much more difficult than most years.”
Local levels of homelessness are increasing, according to the Lee County Department of Health and Human Services. The department states that there are 2,800 homeless people living in Lee County each night, according to annual figures.
Figures from the county department do not factor in the number of homeless children tracked by the Lee County School District. There are an estimated 130 homeless children living in Cape Coral.
When Kim Hustad from LIFT accepted the grant from DCF, she introduced the audience to Cape Coral resident Jeff Becker. He had problems with substance abuse and eventually became homeless.
After years of bouncing between being homeless and spending time in jail, Becker enrolled and graduated from a six-month program with The Salvation Army. Since then he has been sober for five years, owns his own business and continues to volunteer with Alcoholics Anonymous groups across the county.
Megan Spears, resource management director for The Salvation Army, said the grant will help them provide 500 nutritious meals to the homeless. Last year, the organization served 18,000 meals in its Meals with Compassion program.
“We look at individuals and families and identify their point of need,” said Spears.
The Community Cooperative Ministries Inc. is springboarding a new program that it termed the “homeless concierge,” or an individual who will make sure people without a home receive everything they need to start over.
In dealing with substance abuse and mental illness problems, Southwest Florida Addiction Services is one of the main advocate organizations. Kevin Lewis, chief executive officer of SWFAS, said Wednesday that the organization served a total of 70,000 people.
“The challenge we face is that need greatly outstrips the capacity,” said Lewis. “Our primary focus is on individuals with substance abuse problems, but that goes hand in hand with homelessness.”
A separate grant was presented to SWFAS for $191,900 that will help to fund the reconstruction of a transitional living center for women. The number of beds at the center, located in downtown Fort Myers, will increase from nine to 16.
Another grant to SWFAS worth $350,000 came from the State Housing Initiative Program and will be used for building the center, said Lewis.
The new center will provide women with transitional living. According to Lisa Reddick, from the Shelter for Abused Women and Children, domestic violence and sexual assault are the main reasons for women becoming homeless. Ninety percent of homeless women have had a situation involving these types of abuse.
“Understanding that connection is key to getting them back on their feet,” said Reddick.
The issue of homeless is not isolated to only Lee County. In Collier County there are an estimated 415 homeless children, according to the school district, and Mindy Collier from the National Alliance of Mental Illness said that 16 percent of the homeless population suffers from mental illness.