Currently our small number of volunteers serve a fraction of the homeless population in our area. With adequate funding we could serve many more.
The task is enormous. Recent studies suggest that 7500 homeless people live in Hernando County because the largely rural area with deep woods hides them well. Yet those same woods are also home to poisonous snakes, spiders and insects as well as disease-bearing mosquitos. Access to clean, fresh water is difficult, and access to electricity is impossible. Neighboring Pasco County, while more developed, has an estimated 4600 homeless living under equally dire circumstances.
As a result, the people whom we serve are often afraid, demoralized, embarrassed, and sick. And their number grows every year.
Several populations are particularly hard hit: a large encampment behind the local college is filled with homeless college students…16 percent of our public school students are known to school authorities to be homeless…women having fled abusive relationships, possibly with their children and pets, need special care and nurturing …and frail men and women in their 60’s and 70’s living in cars with their pets and/or grandchildren similarly need better housing and continuing care.
Local governments are actively trying to force the homeless into neighboring counties. Yet 16% of the children in Hernando’s public schools are homeless, living in cars, tents, backyard storage sheds, and abandoned hunting lodges with their mothers.
Their needs far outstrip available resources.
In Hernando, there are only three shelters and 93 beds. There is a long waiting line for a short stay at each. Pasco has more shelters and more beds, but the need far exceeds available beds.
There are 29 food pantries serving Hernando county and 37 serving Pasco, but large number of homeless in both counties still go hungry every day.
There is little affordable housing in Hernando. Wait periods for Section 8 housing can exceed two years and “affordable” apartments run almost $1000 a month—an unattainable fee for a person living on $771 a month in disability. Pasco’s story is similar.
Local hospitals in Hernando are turning away desperately ill homeless people because they lack funding to help the growing indigent population. No/low-cost dental care, except for pulling teeth, is non-existent.
Public transportation in Hernando serves only the densely populated areas of Spring Hill and Brooksville, passing by the homeless who seek safety in the woods. Pasco’s larger bus system still misses large swaths of the county—and the homeless who live therein. Hence, getting to jobs and medical appointments is impossible without additional help like the Foundation provides.
With more volunteers to bring food, clothing, shoes, medicines and TLC services to our constituency, we could expand our outreach, thus making life more tolerable for these often invisible and frequently forgotten people.
We need more mentors to work one-on-one with our homeless constituents. The work can be difficult, frustrating, and also very rewarding, but currently compensation is non-existent. Even a small stipend would allow us to attract more qualified mentors, reimburse the people who use their personal cars to transport people, deliver emergency food or medical supplies, and fulfill other requests which arrive hourly.
Finding volunteers to drive would be easier if we could offer a small stipend to cover their gas. At the same time we could use a van to transport water, food, clothing, toiletries and other items to remote encampments that lack these basic needs.
But there is more to do as well.
We want to increase the desperately needed stock of low-income homes in this largely rural area. And to that end we are partnering with the Fuller Center which is interested in creating “pocket communities” to house no/low-income individuals and families.
We need to hire -and compensate- an administrator tasked to coordinate and track care, ensure mentors are supported, and become the public face of the Nature Coast Community Services Foundation representing our organization to the public, the media, and to our partner organizations.
Currently NCCSF is funded solely by contributions from concerned individuals in the greater community. Hence, we seek federal, state and corporate assistance to support the work we do to address this burgeoning epidemic of homelessness affecting our community.