Monday, June 24, 2024

Low-barrier homeless shelter won’t happen without business support, mayor says

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Pensacola will not be opening a low-barrier homeless shelter unless the business community steps up to provide funding along with local governments, Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves said.

Reeves made the comments Tuesday after the city received a report estimating the annual operating cost of a low-barrier shelter in Pensacola will be between $2.19 million and $3.47 million.

“This is an issue for all of us as a community,” Reeves said. “It’s not solely the government’s job to be able to try to reduce homelessness and provide positive outcomes.”

Jon DeCarmine, executive director of GRACE Marketplace in Gainesville, a low-barrier shelter that has succeeded in reducing homelessness in that community, put together the report for the city.

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Reeves said he’s sent the report out to local business and government leaders, including Escambia County officials.

“We’ll probably just have a reconvening conversation with some of those community leaders and say − even if that’s not something that’s going to happen this year − if we now have a roadmap to get there, how interested are we in having it?” Reeves said.

Reeves said last year he believed a low-barrier shelter was needed. In May, he brought in DeCarmine to evaluate what it would take to create a successful low-barrier shelter that can help people be rehoused. DeCarmine was also a CivicCon speaker in May, dispelling the myths around low-barrier shelters.

DeCarmine wrote that a low-barrier shelter in Pensacola should have between 60 and 100 beds, and the cost would run about $2.19 million to $3.47 million. However, that number includes the cost of in-kind contributions such as volunteer time and donated professional services.

Carmine said the non-profit operating the shelter should raise 20% of the cost, including all of the in-kind cost, through private fundraising.

The remaining 80% of the cost, which would be between $1.7 million and $2.7 million, would have to be funded by outside partners such as local governments and business philanthropic support.

“Most new homeless initiatives face a serious risk of trying to start too big and too fast without taking the time to establish appropriate operational support and infrastructure,” DeCarmine wrote. “Taking on too much in the beginning will threaten the ability to develop and sustain support for the project, not only from local leaders and the housed community, but also from people in need of services.”

Reeves said the city could not operate the shelter, but it could help find a non-profit operator and work with the county and other local groups and businesses to aid in funding the shelter.

“It’s going to probably require, at that kind of cost, a bigger conversation,” Reeves said. “It is not going to be handled solely by the city or solely by the county. You see all sorts of mixes of how this is handled across the country, whether it’s hospital systems, healthcare systems, large businesses, or the business community. Actually, just right over in Fort Walton, I believe the business community raised about a half-million dollars a year to support their low-barrier shelter.”

Reeves said the report made clear that securing a way to fund the shelter’s annual operating costs should be in place before moving forward.

“This is precisely why we did this study,” Reeves said. “Because what we didn’t want to do is run ourselves under a time crunch into buying a building and moving forward with something of which we’re not prepared to see through.”

One pressing issue in creating a low-barrier shelter this year was that the city has approximately $1.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds designated to address homelessness that must be encumbered by Dec. 31.

Reeves said he wouldn’t rule out using the $1.3 million to buy a building to house the shelter if the right building came along, but more analysis is needed. He also suggested that it may be more effective to use the funds on transitional housing, which will also be needed.

“We have no desire at the city to be the operator of a low-barrier shelter,” Reeves said. “Our goal is to put someone who knows exactly how to do this, and even better, whoever that is now has a pretty clear roadmap of what we expect, based on Jon’s report.”

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