Op-Ed by Amy Meek  |  Citrus County Chronicle

Through this weekly column, I have shared several stories about the homeless individuals and families our United Way has been able to serve.

Our Rapid Rehousing Program is funded through multiple grants as well as private funds from individual donors. One of the largest grants we rely on, The Challenge Grant, is provided through state dollars provided to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). These dollars were in jeopardy this year through a little snafu. The state Legislature provided spending authority to DCF for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 but did not actually provide the dollars to fund this important work. This oversight threatened to negatively impact thousands of Floridians who face the challenge of homelessness.

Upon hearing this news, homeless coalitions, continuums of care, and other advocacy groups banned together to contact our state representatives to help remedy the issue. I reached out to state Rep. Ralph Massullo, M.D., and state Sen. Wilton Simpson. They both jumped into action immediately.

Through conversations with them and their wonderful staff members, I knew they would do everything they could to assist. Not only did they return my calls, they both met with me in person to discuss the issue. Throughout the process I felt confident that even if we did not reach our desired outcome, these two leaders were doing everything possible to reach resolution and kept us informed along the way.

Just last week we received word that Gov. Rick Scott has directed DCF to file a budget amendment to redirect funding for the purposes of homelessness prevention. A July 2, 2018, press release stated, “DCF has identified $3.1 million in funding that may be redirected to help fill this gap — a process which requires legislative approval through the Legislative Budget Commission.

Gov. Scott said, “While it’s concerning that that this funding was not provided in this year’s budget, I am proud that DCF will be able to redirect money to combat homelessness. I encourage the Legislature to quickly approve this budget amendment that will fund programs that served nearly 13,000 Floridians last year.”

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said, “DCF staff worked diligently to identify every opportunity to continue funding for this important program. I want to thank Governor Scott for his continued support of our work with all our federal and state partners to help every individual in need have a safe place to call home.”

I am so thankful that our local legislative representation cares so deeply for our community. This was a scary situation for not only our organization, but many others across the state. The Challenge Grant ensures that if a person or family is facing homelessness, but has a strong desire to reach self-sufficiency, they will have access to support services.

This program embodies the old saying “let’s give a hand-up, not a hand-out”.

I want to recognize Rep. Massullo, Sen. Simpson and their hardworking staff members, particularly Adele Hembree, for the great work and dedication they provided in this valiant effort. Your heart for our community is a treasured gift and we are truly thankful.

Article last accessed here on July 24, 2018