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Agency housing immigrant boys settles with Pasco

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County officials say a nonprofit agency housing immigrant children violated the terms of a federal grant when it closed a group home for elderly disabled adults two years ago.

County attorneys learned about the closure two weeks ago when reviewing the county's financial arrangement with Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services. On Wednesday, Gulf Coast paid the county $167,762 to settle the matter.

"What we're doing is penalizing them for not caring for elderly adults," assistant county attorney Gordon Johnston said. "It has nothing to do with the children."

The violation, which the Clearwater-based nonprofit group called a repayment, nonetheless added another wrinkle to its controversial effort to house children who fled Central America.

Since June, Gulf Coast has housed boys ages 8 through 17 at a 16-bed facility in Holiday under a contract with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. The group wants to add bunk beds to accommodate up to 32 kids.

But in 2005, long before headlines appeared about thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Gulf Coast received a $420,000 federal grant to build two 16-bed group homes for seniors with dementia. The homes opened in 2006.

Pasco County officials contend the agency breached its contract when it closed one of the homes in 2012.

Gulf Coast said it received notice that some of its funding would be cut off in April 2012, so it consolidated the homes to save money, despite its agreement with the county running through 2015.

In a memo Monday, Johnston wrote that Gulf Coast was required to house disabled seniors at the homes for 10 years and that closing one of them violated its contract.

"Since the property ceased to be operated as an adult treatment facility in 2012, Gulf Coast was in breach of the (agreement)," Johnston wrote.

He assessed Gulf Coast 40 percent of the contract amount, or $167,762, because the violation centered on four of the 10 contract years.

Gulf Coast spokeswoman Lisa Brock said the money was a repayment under the terms of the agreement, and said it will not jeopardize its ability to house the boys.

"We consolidated into one shelter because we knew the money was going away," Brock said. "Looking at it from a fiscal perspective, we didn't have 16 people in both. We figured we'll have everyone under one roof and we won't have to pay maintenance and AC, etc. … on two homes."

Brock said the agreement with Pasco County is now satisfied and Gulf Coast is using one of its shelters to house adults and the other to house the children.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit is still awaiting word on its expansion request. County officials are seeking more time to review it, and action is not expected until October.

Contact Rich Shopes at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236. Follow @richshopes.

Agency housing immigrant boys settles with Pasco 07/31/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 8:49pm]

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