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Homeless families in Alachua County to receive support from $500,000 grant

The grant will be distributed by the Housing Authority in the form of vouchers
Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 7:42 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Families facing extreme financial struggles in Alachua County may soon get major financial support.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation unanimously approved the expansion of the Housing Stability for Homeless Schoolchildren Initiative. The program assists homeless families in regaining housing and financial stability, with a main focus on getting children to stay in school.

The grant is expected to help up to 40 families in Alachua County over the next two years. However, the money will not be going directly to any family in the form of a check or cash. Instead, it will be distributed by the Alachua County Housing Authority in the form of vouchers for rent, security deposits, and utility deposits. Essentially, the money will going directly from the Housing Authority to those separate entities.

Families will receive up to two years of this rental assistance as well as intensive case management support and access to support services like mental health, dental care, food assistance, and budgeting and financial literacy. According to Executive Director of Florida Housing Trey Price, these are some of the main factors that play into the likeliness of a child staying in and doing well in school.

“It’s basically impossible for young children who are homeless to be learning and doing well in school when they don’t know where they will be resting their heads that night," Price said.

Alachua County School Board applied for the grant in partnership with Alachua County Housing Authority, St. Francis House, and United Way. Each organization in the partnership will contribute their resources towards the program. St. Francis House will be contributing their own finances to provide case management workers with the goal of providing support so families can continue to stay on track after the two-year-program is finished.

“What happens is, when a family comes in, there is a vulnerability assessment that is done to find out what their obstacles are. Those will be identified and a case plan will be individualized for each family and each child, so that all of the community resources are pulled together to support this family-- to get them in a place where they are no longer homeless and can sustain themselves,” Executive Director of St. Francis House, Lauri Schiffbauer, said.

The process of choosing applicants will begin with identifying possible families in need through children in the school system.

“There’s ways to spot children who you can tell have not been stably housed ... and I think that’s one of the most important things ... identifying those folks," Price said.

Case managers and school representatives will then contact parents or guardians to see if they qualify, based off of the severity of their needs as well as their cooperation with the process.

“The goal is to build financial stability for the long term. We do not want people who were previously homeless-- getting them housed and because this program runs out, they are homeless again. That cannot happen," Schiffbauer said.

The program was scheduled to begin in January, but those involved decided to push the program forward to the last week of September. Price said the pandemic shedding more light on the issues of homelessness in Florida attributed to the push.

According to Florida Housing, the program could be majorly beneficial to Alachua County, based off of its current evaluation. Here’s a breakdown of their explanation of the program, in their words.

  • “The state of Florida currently has an estimated 91,675 homeless schoolchildren, and in many cases, a lack of stable housing prevents these children from attending school on a consistent basis. Initial pilot sites in Santa Rosa County and Hernando County evaluated the use of funds for short-term tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA), paired with Department of Education homeless education resources, and community-based supportive services.”
  • “This program is the first of its kind in Florida that will provide financial and housing relief to homeless families, while also emphasizing the importance of childhood education.”
  • “Florida Housing, in collaboration with local community partners, created the Homeless Schoolchildren TBRA Pilot Program to provide eligible homeless families with one year of rental assistance and case management support. In April of this year, Florida Housing released findings from its first pilot program conducted in Santa Rosa County, looking at the significant need for affordable, permanent housing options for homeless families with school-aged children.”
  • “The goal of the program was to learn whether the benefits of these resources would allow for greater assistance of homeless families in rural and smaller counties compared to traditional Florida Housing practices in larger urban areas. The Santa Rosa County Pilot Program was launched in early 2018 and immediately found that once the families had stable housing and assistance specific to their needs, the majority of families' incomes stabilized or increased --78% of families had significantly more reliable transportation at the end of their participation than before entering the program. So far, two families have realized their dream of being first-time homebuyers. Of the 60 students participating in the program during the 2018-2019 school year, 98% were promoted to the next grade or graduated. There was an 11% decrease in chronic absenteeism and 18% of the students saw a significant increase in their grade point averages.”
  • "Each new county will receive up to $500,000 in HOME TBRA funds to provide short-term rental assistance for the participating families. Families will receive up to 24 months of rental assistance, academic support for students, and community-based supportive services. Before beginning the initiative, each county formed a partnership with the School District’s Homeless Education Program, the Public Housing Authority (PHA), a Case Management Organization, and the Homeless Continuum of Care Lead Agency. The HOME TBRA funds will be provided by Florida Housing and administered by the local PHA. Community support services for the families will be provided by key partners that will assist eligible families in accessing rental housing, achieving stability and preventing future homelessness.”

The press release from Florida Housing also included quotes from Florida Governor First Lady, Casey DeSantis:

“School often serves as a refuge for our youth and the consistency of education is key to building a healthy future. This initiative has proven to help homeless schoolchildren and increase academic performance and attendance. The partnership between Florida Housing and local communities will help expand a foundation for housing and educational stability for Florida’s children and families.”

For more information about Florida Housing’s programs and services, please visit www.floridahousing.org.

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