Gainesville Homeless Center Seeking $100K More In Funding

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The Empowerment Center, a Gainesville homeless center that includes Grace Marketplace, may see its budget boosted by more than $100,000.

Residents of Grace Marketplace in Gainesville, Fla., live in a pavilion before the renovated dorm's opening on October 1, 2014. Residents who are not invited to live in the building will have to leave the pavilion.
Residents of Grace Marketplace in Gainesville, Fla., live in a pavilion before the renovated dorm’s opening on October 1, 2014. Residents who are not invited to live in the building will have to leave the pavilion.

Alachua County commissioners are considering a 13 percent budget increase — from $905,000 to $1.02 million — for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The $1.02 million would come from independent fundraising and a split of about $400,000 each between the city of Gainesville and Alachua County, commissioners discussed at a budget meeting Thursday morning with the county’s Community Support Services.

“Some of that $1.02 million, we assume it is going to be from other places, and then we will split 50/50 with the city,” said Tom Tonkavich, assistant director of Community Support Services.

Alachua County paid $390,000 in the $905,000 budget, so $10,000 in additional funding would be required based on the $1.02 million budget, according to Claudia Tuck, director of Community Support Services.

Commissioners ensured Thursday with Tuck that there would be no additional requests for funding outside the increase to $1.02 million.

No decisions have been made regarding if and when the budget increase will be approved, but more information will be presented at a later meeting.

The additional funding is in anticipation of paying the center’s staff Alachua County’s proposed minimum wage of $12, up from Florida’s minimum of $8.05, Tuck said.

Community Support Services is also looking to have Empowerment Center staff members become more involved in their work beginning with the Homeless Management Information System, a documentation system for homeless service providers to include and monitor information.

The system is used “to see what services have been received by the community and homeless individuals,” Tuck said. “We need that both for our staff who are doing homeless-prevention services and for those who are monitoring contracts” that the Empowerment Center enters into with vendors.

The cost for the system’s licensing — $900 annually — is already anticipated in the proposed $1.02 million budget.

Other Empowerment Center staff responsibilities under the new budget would include participating in Homeless Continuum of Care meetings, federal programs that bring service providers together with any other organizations related to homelessness and the homeless themselves.

In the past, Community Support Services employees were not allowed to attend the care meetings because their department decides Empowerment Center contracts, presenting a possible conflict of interest. Now, they plan to attend.

“We need to know what’s being said so we know what’s going on in the process,” Tuck said. “The Continuum of Care process is a very engaging process where everybody who is around the table is a service provider and everybody shares the decision making.”

Additionally, a letter sent by the Homeless Continuum of Care to the commissioners requested the appointment of possibly a commissioner to its governing board.

“The governing board would be comprised of a smaller group of individuals who would make initial recommendations to the Continuum of Care,” Tuck said. “They also review grant-funding requests, both federal and state, provide guidance on allocations and review services and community needs.”

With a commissioner or someone else on Homeless Continuum of Care’s board, the county would have more involvement in allocating federal dollars, District 1 Commissioner Mike Byerly said.

“It doesn’t represent any kind of additional funding commitment,” he said of someone from the county joining the board. “This is just a way of overseeing the flow of dollars from federal sources into our local homeless problem.”

Alachua County does not currently receive federal money directly. Some county service providers do, though, getting about $800,000 to fund the HMIS system for staff and licenses; transitional housing, particularly for domestic-violence victims; veterans programs; and some permanent housing programs.

About Megan Kearney

Megan is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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