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Holiday shelter misused grant money, officials say

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Published:   |   Updated: July 31, 2014 at 09:55 AM

A Pasco County youth shelter that has housed boys from Central America since June has paid the county $167,762 for misusing federal funds.

The county attorney’s office concluded Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services breached its contract with the county when it closed the facility, which was built to serve disabled elderly adults, and later converted it to a youth shelter.

Lisa Brock, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization, said the board of directors delivered a check to the county for the full amount today. The repayment satisfies the terms of the agreement.

Jewish Family Services operates the 16-bed shelter in southwest Pasco County and has a contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to house boys ages 8 through 17 from Central America who entered the country illegally.

The Clearwater-based nonprofit received almost $420,000 from the county’s Community Development Block Grant in 2005 to build two 16-bed shelters in Holiday for “elderly disabled adults.” Both shelters opened in 2006, but in 2012 Jewish Family Services closed one of the facilities without notifying the county.

That’s a violation of the financial arrangement, according to a memorandum from Assistant County Attorney Gordon Johnston. He wrote that the building’s mortgage specifically states that Jewish Family Services could not change the use of the facility for 10 years without prior approval from Pasco commissioners. The remedy, he wrote, was to repay 10 percent of the full grant for each year of noncompliance.

“Since the service was provided for the initial six years, the prorated amount would be 40 percent,” he wrote.

The matter came to the county’s attention after the nonprofit applied for a permit to double the number of beds to 32.

Brock said there was no intent to deceive the county, and the misuse of the grant funds has nothing to do with the children who are living at the shelter.

Brock said the social services organization consolidated the elderly housing programs at one shelter in 2012 because it lost funding for one of the programs.

The other building sat empty for two years until the organization won the contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement this spring.

The boys living at the shelter stay an average of 21 days as they wait to join family or sponsors living in the United States.

The shelter is slated to receive nearly $1 million through September and another $1.8 million for fiscal 2015 — if the county allows the expansion.

The case was scheduled to go the county’s planning commission next week and the board of commissioners on Aug. 13, but zoning officials are planning to postpone the hearing until October.

Zoning Manager Denise Hernandez said she received the county attorney’s opinion too late to include it in the agenda for the Aug. 6 meeting. The September planning commission meeting is in Dade City, which is 45 miles away.

Hernandez said given the amount of public interest in the case, she thought the hearing should be in New Port Richey, but the next planning commission meeting isn’t until Oct. 8. Brock said Jewish Family Services doesn’t have a problem with the three-month delay.

“We understand that’s a part of the process,” she said.

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