BROOKSVILLE — For years, Pastor Bruce Gimbel has wanted to expand Jericho Road Ministries' ability to help Hernando's homeless.
Two years ago, despite objections by some neighbors, the ministry won approval from county commissioners to build a 48-bed facility on its property on Howell Avenue. But cuts in federal funding for homeless programs killed the project.
Now Jericho Road is back with another plan — and has the money to make it happen. Earlier this month, the organization won unanimous support of the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission to convert a 9,910-square-foot building on the east side of Broad Street, north of Campbell Drive on the north side of Brooksville, into a shelter that will house 30 men.
It will be the single-largest shelter expansion the nonprofit organization has ever undertaken. And it couldn't come at a more crucial time, Gimbel said.
"It's been very frustrating," Gimbel said last week. "Although the need in the community has grown, facilities to serve the homeless haven't. Having this new facility will be a huge help."
The building, which is owned by New Covenant Baptist Church of Brooksville and was used as a church and a school previously, will house homeless men who are enrolled in Jericho Road's New Life Program, an 11-month program that helps men transition back into work and the community.
Gimbel estimates that it will take between six and nine months to ready the building for occupancy, including upgrades to the septic system and shower and bathroom facilities, as well as construction of living quarters. Once open, the facility will be staffed by five full-time people and an overnight manager.
With the ministry's existing shelters — one for men on Mondon Hill Road and one for women on Howell Avenue — a total of 73 beds will be available for homeless men, women and families. That's about double the existing shelter capacity.
Recent state statistics show that on any given day as many as 776 people live throughout Hernando County in temporary shelters, woods or with friends and family members due to the loss of housing or economic hardship.
But according to Barbara Wheeler, executive director for the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition, short- and long-term housing availability for the area's homeless has never caught up with the demand.
"The funding has never been there," Wheeler said. "With the economy the way it is, we keep seeing increases in families coming for shelter assistance, but the facilities just don't exist."
Wheeler blames much of that on recent slashes in federal and state programs that have left nonprofit organizations that help the homeless scrambling to find resources.
The new Jericho Road facility will be built with a mix of private and public grants, though Gimbel would not discuss the total cost. About $45,000 will come from a state grant administered by the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition.
Gimbel said the new shelter will allow the charity to convert its existing facility on Mondon Hill Road into a screening location and temporary beds for the homeless.
"We're hoping it will fill some gaps we haven't been able to fill," he said. "But we're still only scratching the surface when it comes to what truly needs to be done. And it's not a problem that's going to solve itself."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]