County Commission increases funding for 2017 fiscal year for program that assists homeless families

Foundations’ reduction of expenditures for the 2017 fiscal year leads to staff request for an extra $197,100

A chart provides details of the Family Haven Alliance's assistance to families so far this fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A chart provides details of the Family Haven Alliance’s assistance to families so far this fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During its final budget workshop of the year, the Sarasota County Commission this week unanimously approved an increase of $197,100 in its share of funding for a program that assists homeless families as well as those on the verge of losing their residences.

Through the first 10 months of this fiscal year, the Family Haven Alliance saw a 52-percent increase in the number of families provided shelter and a 57-percent hike in the number of families agreeing to work with case managers to improve their situations, Wayne Applebee, the county’s director of services for the homeless, explained to the County Commission on Aug. 22.

Altogether, 186 families — including 356 children — have been referred to Family Haven Alliance since the Oct. 1, 2015 beginning of this fiscal year, he said. One hundred thirty of them were provided shelter, he noted, and 90 of them have been able to move into permanent housing. “We all recognize we are dealing with families with more challenges.”

The Alliance, he reminded the board, comprises seven agencies in voluntary collaboration: Harvest House and Catholic Charities, which provide emergency shelter; those two entities plus Jewish Family & Children’s Services (JFCS), Schoolhouse Link and The Salvation Army, which offer case management services; and United Way 2-1-1 and the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, which provide information, referral and support services.

For the current fiscal year, Applebee continued, the county provided 36 percent of the $1,638,695 allocated to the Alliance, with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation picking up 29 percent of the total; the rest came from federal and state sources. The total funding proposed to the Alliance for FY2017 is $1,696,635, he said. “That’s about a $60,000 increase in operating expenses …”

Wayne Applebee. File photo
Wayne Applebee. File photo

However, Applebee pointed out, the foundations have been talking with county staff about reducing their financial support as the years go on. For FY2017, their contributions will be reduced to $278,333, compared with $481,009 for the current fiscal year, he added. Therefore, Applebee proposed that the county pick up the difference in the form of a one-time allocation from its Human Services Department budget in the General Fund. That would enable the level of service to remain the same, as it is this year, he noted.

More help for those on the edge of homelessness?

“When we started down the road of Family Haven, we were hoping to come [as] close to zero homelessness as we could with families,” Commissioner Christine Robinson told Applebee. “We’re still seeing economic disparity and uncertainty … I would argue that it’s probably worse than before, with people teetering on the edge.” She asked whether county staff has researched better ways to reach families at risk of losing their homes.

The 2016 fiscal year is only the second full one for the operation of Family Haven, Applebee replied, and while 300 families were served last year, he reiterated that 186 have been helped through the first 10 months of this fiscal year. “We are moving … in the right direction.”

One problem, he continued, is finding affordable and accessible housing for the families who need assistance. Past issues related to some families, such as evictions, make it more difficult to place them in housing, he added. As a result, staff has been talking with representatives of the foundations and nonprofit agencies that help the homeless to try to find a better way of dealing with such circumstances, Applebee said. As part of that process, staff has been looking into what can be done to encourage landlords to be more willing to rent units to families, he added, and staff is assessing whether the program is utilizing units through all available area landlords.

A chart shows the funding breakdown for the Alliance for this year and the 2017 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A chart shows the funding breakdown for the Alliance for this year and the 2017 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“We know that prevention is less costly than when they make that turn to homelessness,” Robinson replied, referring to families. “Are we starting to concentrate on those teetering on the edge a little bit more?”

A lot of money in the county is being put toward prevention of homelessness among families, Applebee told her. For example, $1.7 million was raised during the most recent Season of Sharing initiative, which is a holiday season initiative to help those in need in the community. Agencies such as JFCS and The Salvation Army also are working to prevent homelessness, he said.

Assistant County Administrator Lee Ann Lowery noted that last year, the County Commission made assistance to helping such families a priority, and discretionary money is being allocated to that effort. Additionally, United Way 2-1-1 of Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties has case managers who can respond immediately to reports of families in need of aid, Lowery said.

Nonetheless, Robinson told her, “It seems a piece of the puzzle is missing.”

Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo
Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

“We’re trying to monitor all aspects of [homelessness],” Applebee replied. “I think it would be unrealistic to think that we would ever be at zero [homelessness among families].”

Then Commissioner Carolyn Mason pointed out that she represented the board on the Community Action Agency Board when it was still in existence, so she saw how the JFCS and The Salvation Army, for example, work to help families. Even now, she said, “we have access to see just what [community organizations] are doing.”

The Community Action Agency Board’s mission was “to work in partnership with public and private organizations to design, develop and maintain the availability and accessibility of human services for individuals with incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.” The county’s Health and Human Services Department has taken over the work of that board.

With no further discussion, Mason made the motion to approve the additional funding; Robinson seconded it.