Rarely have I seen a more striking example of good news/bad news than what I read in The Record’s recent article describing an affordable housing project planned for State Road 207 south of Wildwood Drive.

The good news? If it’s built as proposed, there will 80 new housing units constructed, with a guarantee at least 51 percent will be rented based on affordable housing guidelines. The rest will be rented at market rate.

The bad news? In 2012, that same parcel of land was designated for a homeless center with temporary housing and services for those needing support and assistance. Unfortunately, Home Again St. Johns, the organization that proposed the homeless center, was not able to marshal the necessary funding.

The addition of at least 41 new affordable housing units in St. Johns County will definitely help a few people in the low-to-moderate income category, and that’s great. But there will be no homeless shelter, no transitional housing, no dining room, no one-stop social services, no offices for medical or dental care, no showers or laundry services, no supply of needed hygiene items and fresh clothing, or other amenities Home Again St. Johns was planning to offer at that location.

Had adequate funding been realized, the comprehensive homeless center would have also offered referrals for psychological intervention, addiction treatment, educational opportunities, job training and more. Founded in 2011, Home Again St. Johns has spent the past eight years trying its best to alleviate homelessness in St. Johns County — a difficult challenge

Ellen Walden, Executive Director of Home Again St. Johns, along with her board of directors and officers, are to be commended for what they do to help those who are the most vulnerable. Although they will not be breaking ground on the one-stop homeless center, they will continue to facilitate Dining with Dignity — a hot-meal program for the homeless — and also maintain their drop-in assistance center at 1850 S.R. 207.

Knowing that the project will not be pursued is bad news for a lot of needy people, but staff and volunteers at Home Again St. Johns will continue to do everything in their power to improve life for our homeless population.

Fortunately, Home Again is not the only St. Johns County organization supporting and advocating for those in need of short-term help. The broad-based county Continuum of Care serves as an umbrella for several organizations; the St. Augustine Society and its St. Francis House has been lending a helping hand for more than 30 years; and the Betty Griffin Center provides assistance for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, including safe transitional housing. In addition, the Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County includes Alpha Omega Miracle House with its mission to end homelessness, and Good Samaritan’s Wildflower Clinic in West Augustine.

At the risk of omitting some deserving organizations, I would be remiss not to also mention St. Paul AME Church in Lincolnville and St. Cyprian Episcopal Church and its Compassionate St. Augustine program. Also, help can be found through Catholic Charities, United Way, the Veterans Service Center, and St. Johns County Health & Human Services.

All do what they can to help those most in need of support and assistance.

As for the county’s plan to work with The Salvation Army to get the 80-unit housing project rolling out on S.R. 207, it’s a step in the right direction. Mixing affordable units with market-rate units might work. It’s certainly worth a try. Meantime, however, serious additional funding is needed for every organization and agency mentioned in this column.

Maybe the county can expend some of its anticipated $15.5 million budget surplus to help fund local nonprofits that devote their time and resources to help alleviate homelessness and its related challenges? The more help county commissioners provide nonprofit groups, the less impact there will be on county services.

And that would be a good news/good news story.

 

Steve can be contacted at cottrell.sf@gmail.com.