The house that Mary's will build

Jericho Road makes progress on its plans for a women's shelter.

By BETH N. GRAY, Times Staff Writer
Published August 6, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - More than 400 men, women and children are homeless each year in Hernando County.

Already, Jericho Road Ministries operates a shelter with 21 beds for homeless men.

Now, the ministry is making progress in its latest effort: to do something substantial to ease the plight of homeless women, who make up nearly half of the local homeless population, according to statistics from the Mid-Florida Coalition for the Homeless.

The shelter, to be known as Mary's House, would provide a roof, bed and counseling services for single women in need.

The agency already has purchased a 4,000-square-foot house on 3.3 acres along Howell Avenue in Brooksville for $290,000, with a down payment of $30,000 and a 20-year mortgage. It should provide housing for at least six women at a time, said the Rev. Bruce Gimbel, executive director and ministry chaplain of Jericho Road.

"We'll start small and grow," Gimbel said.

Renovations to the house will get under way as soon as the ministry can raise $15,000, he said. Necessities include erecting 850 feet of privacy fencing, installing handicapped-accessible features and emergency lighting, and converting the garage to office space.

Women and children haven't been left entirely out of Jericho Road's endeavors in recent years. While the men's shelter offers 21 beds for an average eight-month stay, the ministry has provided motel accommodations for women and children for an average of three days, Gimbel said, at a cost of $34 a night. This year, to date, it has paid for 96 stays. Last year, it served 111 women and 161 children.

"This year, so far, we've turned down roughly 60 women and families," Gimbel said. "We try to refer them to other agencies. We don't have the resources to keep them."

Its motel budget is limited to $500 a month, he said.

Single women often become homeless through battery and other abuse, coming out of the Dawn Center domestic violence shelter with nowhere to go, Gimbel said. Also, there are women with drug and alcohol addictions and backgrounds in prostitution, he said.

And there are women who are released from the state women's prison in Hernando County, without resources to get back on their feet.

Gimbel calls the motel housing a "Band-Aid approach." It doesn't provide services the women need.

Building on the men's shelter program, Jericho Road envisions classes at Mary's House for women dealing with addictions; relapse prevention; healthy relationships; setting boundaries for proper emotional, physical and spiritual responses; making choices that adhere to spiritual teachings; learning career skills for gainful employment; and parenting skills.

The estimated costs of Mary's House are substantial. The mortgage is $2,600 a month.

"We're hoping and praying we can reduce that," Gimbel said.

Staff - probably starting with one person - plus utilities will cost roughly $40,000 to $50,000 a year, Gimbel figures. The men's shelter has an operational budget of $22,000 a month. Its transitional houses, for men graduating from the shelter and who pay rent for their second step toward responsibility, cost the organization an additional $12,000 per month.

The Jericho Road Ministries' thrift shops on Cortez Boulevard and Wiscon Road bring in about 50 percent of the organization's money, about $11,000 per month. The other half is provided by community donations.

Grocery stores and individuals donate food. Dental clinics and physicians give of their services. Career Central offers job training. A grant from the state program Access to Recovery enables clients to use services provided by other social and human services agencies. Churches give financial donations monthly. Last year, the United Way of Hernando County allocated $7,200 to the ministry.

Gimbel said his hope is to have Mary's House open by the end of the year. But, "those plans are adjustable," he said.

The agency's board of directors is considering a number of fundraisers, he added.

Beth Gray can be reached at graybethn@earthlink.net.