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Feds dangle homeless grant; nobody bites

Local advocates said too many strings were attached to the money meant to target chronic homelessness.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003


LAND O'LAKES -- Some have been homeless for more than a year. Others have slipped in and out of homelessness at least four times in the past three years -- often because they have untreated addictions or disabilities that allow their lives to remain unraveled.

Their plight is described as "chronic homelessness," a phenomenon the federal government aims to eradicate within a decade.

As part of that ambitious effort, the feds set aside a special $35-million pot of grant money this year to help homeless agencies across the country.

But as the deadline for those dollars passed Monday, no one from Pasco County had applied for a penny. Local homeless advocates said the grant program came with too many strings attached.

"That ended up being so restrictive that we didn't have any (provider) that fell into the category," said Jeff Tomeo, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County.

Agencies had to use the money to help those suffering from chronic homelessness, he said, a strictly defined group of people who account for an estimated 10 percent of the homeless population. Often they are individuals with a substance abuse problem, mental health condition or physical disability that prevents them from keeping a home.

But some of the Pasco groups deal more with the other 90 percent of the homeless population: the families who find themselves temporarily homeless because of a job loss or a marriage breakup, among other reasons.

That's been the focus, for example, for the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It won a grant last year to convert the Druid Hills apartments in Dade City into units for homeless families and is considering a second project in east Pasco that would also help families, regional director Abby Evert said.

Other groups that do serve the chronically homeless, such as the Harbor Behavioral Health Care Institute, found the latest grant program too difficult to pursue. The program included dollars and oversight from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration.

"It's a complex grant with multiple federal agencies," said Harbor spokeswoman Beth Hardy. "The Harbor at this time did not have the resources and the staffing to pursue the grant appropriately."

The coalition and its members have set their sights on other grant opportunities, however.

HUD offers a pool of money every year for a broader range of homelessness projects, Tomeo said. Catholic Charities, Bay Area Legal Services and Volunteer Way are considering proposals for that HUD program, he said.

Officials are also lobbying lawmakers in Tallahassee to keep state dollars for homelessness projects in the proposed 2003-04 budget.

Evert remained hopeful Monday that Pasco groups would find other ways to pay for their projects. She had brought the chronic homelessness grant to the coalition's attention in February, but said sometimes one grant program is more useful to agencies than another.

"I always say that even though one door closes, another one opens," Evert said.

-Bridget Hall Grumet covers social services in Pasco County. She can be reached at 352-521-5757 ext. 23 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 23. Her e-mail address is bhall@sptimes.com .

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