BROOKSVILLE — It was a sad day, pastor Bruce Gimbel of Jericho Road ministries told the County Commission on Tuesday.
The day before, he said, the county's Planning and Zoning Commission had rejected his plan to build housing that would increase the capacity of the agency's shelter at 1163 Howell Ave. from six to 48.
Concerned that $440,000 in grant funding to build needed housing for the homeless could be lost, Gimbel begged the board to let him plead his case to them.
The County Commission has granted his wish, with the members using an unusual method to get there.
The commission has scheduled a formal vote for Tuesday on whether to hear the appeal of the planning board's decision. And commissioners have assumed that the board will grant that hearing, so they have scheduled the hearing to take place immediately, during Tuesday's meeting.
The normal route is for the commission to vote to hear an appeal at one meeting, and then set the hearing for another meeting within 60 days, to allow all sides time to prepare arguments.
But time is critical for the state grant Gimbel is seeking.
The grant will be awarded Dec. 3 and is tied to the shelter increasing its capacity, said John Mitten, president of Jericho Road's board. Gimbel explained that even if he gets the grant, without the county's approval for the expansion, he would not be able to use the funds.
Planning director Ron Pianta said that after reviewing the tape of the Tuesday County Commission meeting, it was clear that the commissioners wanted to hear the ministry's appeal. They nodded a consensus to bring the issue before them, supporting a plea from departing County Commissioner Rose Rocco to consider the needed expansion.
At the planning commission meeting, neighbors were concerned about raising the intensity of the use of the Jericho Road's 3.3 acre site. Six women now are housed on the property in what is known as Mary's House. The plan would be to move the women to the ministry' other shelter on Mondon Hill Road and then to house up to 48 men on Howell Avenue.
Switching from women to men and increasing the capacity worried many neighbors who fear that the clients could pose a danger to the women and children and the property in the neighborhood.
By Jericho Road officials' own comments, many of those housed at the facility come with histories of alcohol and drug dependency and violent tendencies. A portion of the population comes into the shelter directly from a stay in county jail.
The shelter offers temporary beds but also an 11-month, Christian-based program to get the homeless back on their feet financially and spiritually.
Questions were also raised about the proposed expansion being in a flood zone, a potential problem for people without transportation or a means of self-support.
Planning commissioner members were especially concerned with the large increase in numbers of beds as well as the shelter's proximity to schools, assisted living facilities and homes.
The plan is to build a structure with 16 bedrooms and to expand the current shelter facilities by 3,150 square feet and add two bedrooms, a commercial kitchen, dining room, laundry, bathroom and storage. Existing facilities will be converted to storage, classrooms and office space.
Funds would come from the Homeless Housing Assistance Grant through the Florida Department of Children and Families, which Gimbel hopes to receive.
Mitten and Gimbel said they want the neighbors to look at their track record and see that they can handle the expanded program.
"In 10 years there has been no issue whatsoever with law enforcement and no complaints from the neighbors,'' Mitten said Thursday. "That would suggest that Jericho Road is capable of handling this. Actually, it's safer to have this program than to not have it.''
Keeping the community, the clients and the Jericho Road staff safe are priorities, Gimbel said. That's why the program includes a detailed screening process both before a client is accepted and as they arrive at the shelter. At that point, they area screened for drugs and alcohol and are not admitted if they have been actively using those substances.
While neighbors may worry about who is living at the shelter, Gimbel said the key is that the men who stay are people who are committed to change. In the program, they earn a GED, get help with their addictions and work toward finding a job.
Gimbel said the homeless shelter and recovery program Jericho Road offers is an important resource for other agencies, hospitals and correctional facilities in the area and one that is growing in these hard economic times.
Gimbel can serve about 12 men in the program but his waiting list is at 16. That means people get turned away.
"It breaks my heart that we have to do that when here we have an opportunity today that will allow us to expand,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.