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Donation lets Hernando shelter group solidify plans

Jericho Road Ministries, which is devoted to building a shelter for Hernando County's homeless people, has taken several steps toward its goal.

The organization is looking at two locations: the old Sun-Journal building on Lamar Avenue near Broad Street for use as a thrift store and offices, and an old fish camp near Istachatta, just north of the Hernando-Citrus line, as a counseling center for homeless men, particularly those who are alcoholics or drug addicts.

It is negotiating to buy the Sun-Journal building, said executive director Bruce Gimbel; it has permission to use the old fish camp, which is owned by the Wilkes Foundation, a Christian charitable organization in Leesburg, though the facilities need extensive work to make them suitable for a counseling center.

Jericho Road will also have to pay counselors and other staffers at the center, which will not be opened for several months, Gimbel said.

The organization has been able to make such a move forward, he said, because it received $100,000 from DayStar Hope Center last month. DayStar had earlier given it a $250,000 grant that required a match of the same amount. Gimbel said he and the Jericho Road board members realized it would take the organization at least until the end of the year to collect the match.

"So our board members talked to the DayStar board members," who agreed to give Jericho Road $100,000 immediately. DayStar had already given $15,000, which pays for half of Jericho Road's first-year operating expenses; the other half was donated by Faith Presbyterian Church in Brooksville.

DayStar, which had accumulated about $300,000 to build a homeless shelter, abandoned two locations last year after people who would have been living near the shelters vehemently objected. The organization pulled out of the effort to build a shelter partly because it had caused hostility in the community, DayStar founder Frank Bierwiler said last year.

Jericho Road also has collected about $5,000 from other community organizations. Raising money was made easier in June, when the organization received federal designation as a tax-exempt organization. This means that donations are tax-deductible.

The counseling center in Istachatta will give residents help with substance abuse and skills such as managing money and finding work. It will not be a typical homeless shelter, which allows residents to come and go freely. They will be required to stay for about 12 weeks, Gimbel said, and will have to agree to attend the counseling sessions.

The organization also wants to build a similar facility for homeless women with children.

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