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Pasco homeless group to mark 25 years

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NEW PORT RICHEY — Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County leaders say the nonprofit agency has come far in its past 25 years, but still has a long way to go.

The group will observe the milestone anniversary at a breakfast event Wednesday, Oct. 30, by honoring some of its pioneers. They include Royetta Runyon, Sister Joan Foley, Addy Reyes, Diane Morris, Penny Morrill and Abbie Evert.

Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri will be recognized for leading efforts in 2012 to obtain a mobile medical van to serve the homeless, Eugene Williams said as executive director of the coalition.

Yet many goals remain in the 10-year plan to end homelessness by 2020, Williams said.

“We’ve still got a ways to go,” Williams said. The county still needs much more family and emergency shelters to stabilize people before they can find permanent lodging. That’s the first step toward people achieving self-sufficiency, he emphasized.

Groundbreaking for a transitional facility with some 50 beds at the ROPE Center in Hudson could take place in about a month, Williams said. He hopes the facility could open within about eight months.

In Zephyrhills, a transitional facility for 15 men could open in the near future.

A veto of a state grant stalled a transitional facility at Metropolitan Ministries in Holiday, but the nonprofit group should go ahead and start construction soon on a much larger kitchen to feed the hungry.

Catholic Charities has bought and refurbished some apartment complexes through federal neighborhood stabilization funds, reserving some units for lower-income renters.

“As soon as they open, they’re filled up,” Williams said about shelters or subsidized rents on apartments.

Affordable housing often remains out of reach for low-income families, Williams pointed out.

Pasco County needs around 7,000 aditional affordable housing units, Williams said, citing statistics from the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, at University of Florida.

“That’s our major problem right now,” Williams said. “A lot of this is stagnating our economy.”

Some people here might be spending up to 70 percent of their income on housing, Williams said. The norm is about one-third of income. Rent, utility bills and other expenses doesn’t leave much left over in a budget of a minimum-wage worker earning perhaps $1,400 a month.

The situation has eased somewhat in recent years, Williams said. During the depths of the recession in 2010, the unemployment rate was about 31 percent for lower-income residents in Pasco. Today, the jobless rate might be closer to 20 percent.

The Rev. Dan Campbell of Metropolitan Ministries joined the coalition leadership at about the same time as Williams in 2006. It took almost three years to write the 10-year plan to end homelessness, “Pathways to Permanence,” Campbell recalled.

“Without a plan it’s just a shot in the dark,” Campbell said. The idea is to start people on the path toward self-sufficiency. Pasco adopted the approach of other counties that discovered the futility of containing homelessness.

“That’s the whole enchilada for families,” Campbell said about housing and support, adding, “It’s not getting better at all” for low-income families.

In 2010, some 2,400 low-income families sought help at the Metropolitan Ministries resource center. Last year, the number jumped to 4,800. “That’s more than double,” Campbell said.

The coalition’s 25th anniversary breakfast will start at 8 a.m. Wednesday at Seven Springs Country Club, 3535 Trophy Blvd. For more information contact Michelle Kukec at michellek@pascohomelesscoalition.org or call (727) 842-8605, ext. 7003.

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