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Why Family Promise of Santa Rosa is opening a new short-term housing facility

PNJ.com (Pensacola) logo PNJ.com (Pensacola) 6 days ago Emma Kennedy, Pensacola News Journal

Two sister agencies aiming to provide stopgap housing to families facing homelessness are approaching big milestones as pandemic restrictions ease and give hope to those who have been struggling with housing insecurity.

Family Promise of Santa Rosa County is working to open a short-term housing facility in Milton for families who need to get back on their feet, or get connected with such resources as employment, government services or longer-term housing.

The organization already owns 13 units that are full of families who qualify through programs like Section 8 or the Tenant Based Rental Assistance program, but the new building will be a more stopgap option to fill a need the organization’s employees were commonly seeing.

Family Promise of Santa Rosa County's executive director, Linda White, said many of its clients are people who have had jobs or housing but a large medical bill, job loss or something similar has led them into homelessness or unstable housing. During the pandemic, it got even more difficult, she said, but the organization wasn’t able to help with housing multiple families together because of COVID-19 restrictions.

a man sitting at a table: Donna Jacobi Pruett discusses efforts to start a new branch of the Family Promise program in Escambia County on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Family Promise is a national organization that uses a community-based approach to helping homeless and low-income families achieve independence and sustainability. The non-profit creates networks of local churches willing to give families one week of shelter once a year shelter, and of volunteers willing to help the families with meals and other needs two hours a day, four times a year. © Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com Donna Jacobi Pruett discusses efforts to start a new branch of the Family Promise program in Escambia County on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Family Promise is a national organization that uses a community-based approach to helping homeless and low-income families achieve independence and sustainability. The non-profit creates networks of local churches willing to give families one week of shelter once a year shelter, and of volunteers willing to help the families with meals and other needs two hours a day, four times a year.

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“COVID threw a wrench into everything for everyone, but it’s given us a chance to renovate everything and work with some grant money, and right now Santa Rosa doesn’t have anything for homeless families like this,” White said.

The house won’t be a shelter, White said, and likely will fit only two families at once who will stay for about 30 days at a time while they establish a long-term homelessness plan.

Its residents will need to be pre-screened and apply for the program through referral, and it will replace a long-held program of Family Promise that had churches and nonprofit buildings offer up space for families to stay a week at a time, rotating them between locations.

The new building is in Milton, but its location isn't being advertised because it's not a publicly available shelter.  The residents are primarily referred through other community agencies, like the Tenant Based Rental Assistance offered to students experiencing homelessness through the Santa Rosa County School District, for example, and then go through an application process with Family Promise. 

The more static model will provide stability, said board president Rhonda Currier.

“What makes us unique from other agencies that support the homeless is we support the family unit,” she said.

“Our founder realized most communities have some kind of shelter for single males or single females, some will take families with children, but almost none will take men with children so there was this gap. If you’re a family that’s homeless, typically you have to split up and that’s very disconcerting for families.”

Family Promise of Escambia County to be finalized this summer

In Escambia County, volunteers have put in close to two years of effort drumming up support and partnerships to launch an official Family Promise affiliate, which is expected to be finalized by this summer.

Volunteer Donna Jacobi has been involved in homelessness stakeholder meetings for years as a volunteer and said once approved as an affiliate of the national program, they will have a board and executive director, functioning much like the Santa Rosa chapter.

“We get emails, texts, Facebook posts from people losing their leases and being evicted or they’ve lost everything from the hurricane and we want to be able to help so badly,” she said. “We know the needs are huge.”

Jacobi said the goal is to start with the model of rotating families for a week at a time between organizations that offer space like churches or businesses, and during the day, adults who are not working could commute to a nearby day center to apply for jobs, do laundry and take life skills classes as needed. 

“We would ask each to keep a maximum of four families for a week and then the next Sunday the beds, bedding and people move to the next site,” she said. “It could be businesses, hospitals, YMCAs, whoever would take them in, but it would put the whole family together in one space.”

At night, volunteers would help families settle in, bring a hot meal and address issues or needs the families have. 

“The trouble here is we have so little affordable housing units to get us started,” Jacobi said.

Currier said there isn’t yet a timeline for when the new Santa Rosa County facility will be ready to take guests, but intake is generally done by a referral from other agencies, so homeless families are not able to seek residence there the same way they might in a shelter.

Still, she expects it will provide some respite for the qualifying families who are looking for housing in a market that’s been increasingly difficult.

The Escambia County chapter likely will be operational by the end of the summer, officials said.  

Emma Kennedy can be reached at ekennedy@pnj.com or 850-480-6979.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Why Family Promise of Santa Rosa is opening a new short-term housing facility

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