Tuesday morning, a pair of Hernando County commissioners helped declare Nov. 14-20 as national hunger and homeless awareness week, then voted against allowing a nonprofit agency to expand its homeless shelter.
Commissioner Jim Adkins said he supported the mission of Jericho Road Ministries Inc., just not the location of the shelter. Newly sworn-in Commissioner Wayne Dukes offered no public explanation for his vote. That was unfortunate. He shouldn't be shy about explaining his misguided rationale.
The commissioners would be wise to reread the resolution they had approved a few minutes earlier to "educate the public about the many reasons people are hungry and homeless including the shortage of affordable housing in Hernando County for very low-income residents; and to encourage support for homeless assistance service providers …''
Some support. Fortunately, a three-person majority of Commissioners David Russell, Jeff Stabins and Chairman John Druzbick didn't share the hypocrisy. They overturned a recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission, which last week denied Jericho Road Ministries' expansion application. The agency is seeking a state grant to add 17 bedrooms to its Howell Avenue facility outside the city of Brooksville in order to serve up to 48 homeless men through an 11-month program providing classes, work and spiritual guidance.
Though neighbors expressed fear about potential interaction between their children and the shelter's clients, nobody offered documentation of such encounters between the six women now at Howell Avenue and the juveniles.
Likewise, no problems have been reported at the agency's 12-bed men's shelter, which has operated for 10 years at a different location. That program now has a 16-person waiting list, prompting the grant application and the expansion request.
Allowing the group to expand should prove cost-effective in the long run, something that should appeal to fiscally conscious commissioners. Doing nothing is simply too expensive, resulting in higher hospitalization and public safety costs to the public. Multiple studies show the annual cost of feeding, incarcerating and providing health care to a chronically homeless person is tens of thousands of dollars higher than even the most comprehensive program to aid the homeless.
In this case, Jericho Road Ministries is doing the heavy lifting with the potential aid of a $440,000 state grant to expand the shelter. Kudos to Russell, Stabins and Druzbick for recognizing that commitment and allowing the agency to try to help even more people in need.