BROOKSVILLE — The number of homeless and destitute men and women is increasing in Hernando County, and Jericho Road Ministries is taking steps to meet their needs.
The nonprofit Christian organization, which has operated a men's shelter for 10 years and added a women's shelter two years ago, is anticipating a state Homeless Housing Assistance grant of more than $400,000.
The money would finance the construction of a 16-bedroom, 48-bed dormitory for men at 1163 Howell Ave., plus an addition to the two-story Mary's House there that would include a commercial kitchen, dining room, laundry, bathroom, offices and storage.
Men would occupy the expanded site on Howell while women would move to Jericho Road's current men's shelter on Mondon Hill Road. That facility provides space for 14 clients, sufficient for the usual two to three women seeking shelter at any time, said executive director Bruce Gimbel.
The men's shelter has a waiting list of potential clients, said Gimbel, a pastor.
The ministry's first hurdle is obtaining approval for a special zoning exception for the 3.3-acre site on Howell Avenue. The exception request is to provide housing for 48 clients, up from the six now approved.
The request goes before the county's Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday and, if recommended for approval, then to the County Commission.
Gimbel said letters of intent went out to Howell Avenue neighbors recently. As of midweek, no response. However, a resident farther away on Howell has stopped by intermittently to laud Jericho Road for the services it's providing to the community, he noted.
Traffic shouldn't be a concern, Gimbel said, because residents are not allowed to have personal transportation and are mainly restricted to the property.
Some clients have addiction problems, Gimbel acknowledged, but they must abide by stringent rules if they check into the shelter's programs.
The toughest is an 11-month New Life Program, in which they learn responsibility and job skills. Ten graduated from the program last year, Gimbel said.
The ministry's shelter budget amounts to about $300,000 to $400,000 a year, funded by donations and money raised through its three thrift shops.
If the necessary approvals come through, plus the grant, which could happen in December, Gimbel said ground could be broken for the construction in January or February. Opening could be targeted for early next summer.
The director added: "We are thankful to the city and the county for allowing us to provide the services to the homeless and needy in our community." As for the new project, he said, "We hope God continues to open doors so it can happen."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.