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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Inconclusive search for Continuum of Care leadership threatens Florida homeless service funding

Millions in federal funding threatened by lack of proposals for lead agency role

Sign at the entrance of United Way of North Central Florida displayed on Sunday, April 7, 2024.
Sign at the entrance of United Way of North Central Florida displayed on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

North Central Florida counties are at risk of losing over $1 million of federal funding for homeless service providers if a replacement lead agency is not appointed by June.

Keys to Home is a Continuum of Care — a coalition of homeless service providers — representing Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Putnam counties. To obtain federal funding for new and existing programs, the coalition is required to have one representative agency coordinate a proposal for annual funding cycles.

After the current representative, or lead agency, United Way of North Central Florida announced in 2023 it would leave the role, Keys to Home intended to notify the successful bidder for its lead agency role March 18. In the three weeks since then, it has yet to receive any applications.

“At present, our community is in danger of forfeiting access to millions of dollars unless we appoint a CoC lead agency by June of this year,” wrote Family Promise of Gainesville Director Shari Jones in a call to action March 20.

Applications for a new lead agency were released to the public Jan. 12 for an expected deadline of Feb. 23. 

“We're stuck in step one: just finding a new lead [agency],” said Amber Miller, the president of United Way of North Central Florida, the current lead agency. “So I really didn't know what it's going to look like until we have a lead because then that's gonna trigger a whole different timeline.”

United Way of North Central Florida announced to the CoC leadership committee Oct. 31 it intended to leave this role due to concerns with the increase in households that make over the Federal Poverty Level but are not eligible for government assistance. This threshold is referred to as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. According to United Way of North Central Florida, 32% of Alachua County falls into the ALICE classification.

“United Way decided that we were willing to divest ourselves of our responsibilities as lead agency so that we can focus on those [ALICE] households struggling in our community, because there are so many of them, and in reality, these are the households that are going to eventually fall into homelessness if you don't do anything about it,” Miller said.

United Way is in regular communication with the Florida Department of Children and Families and Florida Coalition to End Homelessness in preparation to act immediately once a new lead agency is identified.

Before United Way took over the lead agency role in 2018, the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, also known as GRACE Marketplace, served as the lead agency. While county agencies in Miami Dade, Palm Beach and Broward all serve as its CoC’s respective lead agencies, Alachua County decided it will not fulfill the same role due to ethical concerns as a direct service provider, said Alachua County Support Services Director Claudia Tuck.

“It's really hard if you're the agency that receives the dollars, and you're responsible for providing the service and then you have to come back and monitor yourself on how you did,” she said.

After the shift in lead agencies, funding for GRACE Marketplace was moved from equal city and county contributions to sole city contributions. With the funds originally provided to GRACE Marketplace by the county, Alachua County Support Services used funding to support rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing for individuals, Tuck said.

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Brandon Jimenez is 26 years old and has been homeless since 2017. He said low monthly income and long waiting lists for housing services are the primary factors behind his current living state.

Jimenez’s property was seized by public works during a Feb. 20 sweep of a homeless encampment. If he does not retrieve it by May 20, it will be discarded after the 90-day period described in a public notice posted on the day of the sweep.

“The police don’t really don’t like us, hospitals don’t like us,” he said. “I should know. I go for mental health a lot. I got to overdose just to get them to open up.”

Terry Washington, who is 35 years old and homeless, expressed how his past experiences with GRACE Marketplace have caused him to depend on other services like the Gainesville Housing Authority.

“They’re going to have you out there waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting after years and years,” Washington said. “I’ve been waiting for over two years now. It's a whole new year. We're getting nowhere.”

Further confusion and frustration regarding this process stems from paperwork and long waitlists with up to 700 people ahead of him, he said.

While the funding structure for each service provider pulls from a multitude of sources, lack of funding affects the entire network of homeless supportive services, said Pamela Davis, the CEO of Gainesville Housing Authority.

“I believe every agency here in our community is applying for whatever federal or state funds that become available,” she said. “Right now the need outweighs the resource. And so we will continue to look at strategies, best practices and funding that become available and diligently seek to go after any that will assist us in our community with this problem.”

The request for proposal has reopened and is open until 5 p.m. April 11.

Contact Diego Perdomo at dperdomo@alligator.org. Follow him on X @diegoperdomoaq.

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Diego Perdomo

Diego Perdomo is a senior journalism major and the Summer 2024 Digital Managing Editor. He previously worked as the data reporter, graphic design editor and a graphic designer. Outside of his studies, he enjoys reading comic books and biking, wondering how things would be outside of the car-dominated society.


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