NEW PORT RICHEY — Gov. Rick Scott vetoed aid for Pasco's homeless on Monday, but county officials did their part on Tuesday to help those families in need.
County commissioners unanimously approved a $600,000 grant to help Metropolitan Ministries build a 24-unit complex in Holiday to provide transitional housing for families hit hard by the recession.
"I was joyously going to report that the state had approved $1.3 million," said Community Development manager George Romagnoli. "But the governor vetoed it."
Romagnoli said the veto still doesn't change the need for the complex and the fact that it will need future money. Private fundraising efforts also are going on alongside the government aid.
"We're not going to contribute all the money," Romagnoli said. "But we think local government should contribute to this need."
Commissioners lamented Scott's refusal to allocate the money, agreed on in the conference committee between the House and Senate.
"I whipped off a letter, in the form of an email to the governor," Commissioner Pat Mulieri said. "This is no turkey. This project is so needed."
Mulieri said she was especially pleased that part of the money would have allowed Metropolitan Ministries, which has its Pasco headquarters at 3214 U.S. 19 in Holiday, to renovate and expand its kitchen so it could be used to provide job training as well as feed clients.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey also expressed her disappointment in Scott's decision but said she was working on a fundraiser and looking at other ways of getting government aid.
"I think there are other ways to get this passed," she said, adding that she wasn't ready to discuss it publicly. Romagnoli said the nonprofit agency will return for the money when it's ready to build the complex. An agreement would then be drawn up and brought to the commission for approval.
The design for the complex came from Rich Bekesh, president of Spring Engineering in Holiday; car dealer Scott Fink donated $100,000 toward the project. Generations Church in west Pasco also has supported the effort, expected to cost a total of $2 million.
State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was a big supporter, as was House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and state Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.
The 2007 housing bust hit Pasco hard, and charities are continuing to deal with the fallout. Metropolitan Ministries' Pasco operation received more than 600 requests for housing assistance in the past 11 months, mostly due to foreclosure. Its monthly requests for services have increased by 112 percent since 2011.
The two-story building could house 24 families. It would include a living room with computers for job searches and resume preparation, as well as a laundry area and playground.
Metropolitan Ministries would provide meals from its kitchen, which it plans to renovate and expand to provide 2,000 meals a day to the area's homeless people, including kids in low-income schools and those attending its summer camp. The agency also wants to use the kitchen for a job training program in culinary arts. Metropolitan Ministries has raised $300,000 from other donors for the kitchen project.
"It's a biggie," Mulieri said of the kitchen, which she sees as job creator.
The building would have other benefits for the county as it is incorporated into a long-term plan to address homelessness.
After years of missing out on substantial federal aid, the Homeless Coalition of Pasco County came up with a 10-year plan to address the problem. It called for seeking millions of dollars in public and private investments ranging from the construction of 350 units of "supportive housing," more emergency help for rent and utility payments to keep people in their homes, and centers where people can get financial counseling and job information.