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Pasco officials withdraw funding for homeless veterans center

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County officials rescinded a $400,000 grant Tuesday for St. Jude's Veterans Resource Center, closing the book on the group's efforts to create a transitional housing facility.

The vote was part of the County Commission's consent agenda, approved unanimously without discussion.

Officials had earmarked the money last year for St. Jude's, which wanted to create a temporary housing center where homeless veterans could receive counseling and other support. This spring, St. Jude's proposed converting the former Immanuel Lutheran Church off Ridge Road into a 30-bed facility.

But the plans unraveled amid intense neighborhood opposition and questions about St. Jude's founder, Morson Livingston, a former Catholic priest who left his Army chaplain's post in 2001 after a blistering reprimand over sexual harassment allegations. As Livingston's military records surfaced, key board members, including Maj. Gen. Wayne Rollings and his wife, Gwen, left St. Jude's, and the contract to buy the church property was terminated.

A subsequent Times investigation found St. Jude's had been operating deeply in the red, spending about $2.15 for every $1 it took in. Livingston had his own financial troubles, facing foreclosure proceedings at various times on three homes. And his claims of serving in Bosnia, as well as the origin of three of the ribbons on the dress uniform he wears to events, were not reflected in military records obtained by the Times.

Livingston refused to answer any questions about those issues.

Then, last month, he sent an e-mail to county officials saying: "I am not interested in doing anything in Pasco County at this time, so consider this as a revocation of any funding request for any project for our organization."

In a memo last month proposing to withdraw the funding, county officials described St. Jude's members as "very confrontational" with neighbors who questioned the project. The county's Community Development Division "now feels that the agency does not have the capacity to operate such a large facility," division manager George Romagnoli wrote.

Romagnoli's boss, budget director Mike Nurrenbrock, pulled the item from the commission's May 25 agenda to revise the letter.

The memo that came before commissioners on Tuesday simply noted that Livingston had revoked his request for the funding.

Pasco officials withdraw funding for homeless veterans center 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 5:23pm]
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