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HOMELESS COALITION GRANT IN TROUBLE

The group needs $12,000 more, or the grant could go somewhere else.

In another sign of troubled economic times and tight government budgets, the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition - which itself has seen a rise in requests for help - needs assistance.

The nonprofit organization, which provides support to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, is in need of an additional $12,000 to meet the requirements of one of its federal grants. And it's hoping the community can lend a hand.

In the past, Hernando County's government provided money from its general fund budget to secure an annual $78,000 Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. But in recent years, the County Commission has cut all of the matching funds for nonprofit organizations' grants.

"We were just one of many that couldn't be funded," said Barbara Wheeler, executive director for the homeless coalition. "We understand. It's a sign of the times."

But the need for help is greater than ever, she said.

"It's not just the volume," she said. "It's the desperation."

Regardless of where matching funds have come from in the past, local communities are expected to help. This year's HUD grant will allow agencies to acquire technology and software they need under the law to track the services they provide.

While the federal government understands that people are struggling, it still expects communities to help out to show support for the programs, Wheeler said.

While matching requirements vary depending on the grant, this particular grant required an initial 25 percent match, about $20,000. The coalition has already come up with the first $8,000; the remaining $12,000 must be raised by the end of October.

The grant is particularly important in that it serves as a stepping stone for other, much larger grants.

"The federal government has said, we think this is so important, we're not going to give you additional funds, including an additional $600,000 stimulus package earmarked for Hernando, until you have this technology in place.

"If we don't have this, they can take those dollars away and give them to another community," said Wheeler.

Jericho Road Ministries, another local nonprofit organization that provides a variety of support services, including the operation of several homeless shelters, is in the process of writing another grant that can only be awarded to communities that have the new technology in place.

For those unable to support the efforts financially, Wheeler said many local organizations are always looking for more volunteers. Even those who are out of work should consider helping out, she said.

"There are a lot of good organizations out there that are helping people and touching lives. It can make them feel good about not being the only ones who are struggling at this time."

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

fast facts

Want to help?

Anyone wishing to donate to the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition, which supports residents in Hernando, Citrus, Lake and Sumter counties, may send tax-deductible contributions to: Mid Florida Homeless Coalition, P.O. Box 1527, Eustis, FL 32727-1527. For information, call Barbara Wheeler at (352) 860-2308.

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