Butterworth presents homeless grant awards

09/04/07 Seán Kinane
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This morning at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, the Department of Children and Families presented more than a half-million dollars in grant money to groups helping the homeless. The purpose of these challenge grant awards is to provide shelter, food and assistance to the homeless.

DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth told WMNF about the grant program.

“We’re giving out today 22 grants totaling $2.1 million for use for homelessness in order to help break the cycle of homelessness. Here in Hillsborough County we’re giving out six grants totaling approximately $600,000.

"We came here to Hillsborough High School because of its unique history being the first high school in Hillsborough County but also because there are a number of homeless children that are going here to Hillsborough High, I think it’s the highest number probably anywhere in the county or in the region.”

Butterworth presented checks in amounts from $26,000 to $150,000 to the grant recipients in the hallway of Hillsborough High School.

The Homeless Coalitions of Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties accepted oversized checks representing the amounts of challenge grants awarded.

Butterworth hopes that one of the ways these grants will be used is to address the needs of homeless students.

“In Hillsborough County, there are approximately 2500 what’s considered to be homeless children. But we think it’s between about 800 and 1,000 that are homeless with parents or a parent. And then there’s a lot of other children that are foster children that are not in a permanent situation. And this is one of the few counties that actually tracks and attempts to help all the children that are homeless or are in non-permanent foster care.”

William Orr is principal of Hillsborough High School. He is concerned about student homelessness in the county and in his school.

“We have a number of homeless students here at Hillsborough, as well as a number of students that are in foster homes. And we do everything we can to make them feel welcome to try to get them into the mainstream of our student body so that they don’t feel like they’re stuck out or look and feel different than everybody else.”

Lesa Weikel is community relations manager of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County. Her group received the maximum grant, $150,000. The Coalition works with all populations of homeless individuals, including homeless students.

“They’re often the forgotten homeless.The secretary mentioned … 2,300 homeless children in the school system last year. Right now the school district knows of 500 since the start of the school year just a few weeks ago.”

Butterworth explained what those grants might be used for in addition to helping homeless students.

“It will be used also for older people, it will be used for food. It depends upon which one of the coalitions ... think they could use the money best. Obviously this is not all of the money they get all year but it’s part of the money and we’re hoping to help as many as we can.

"We have 60,000 people on any given day, in Florida, at least, that are homeless and 12,000 of those children between infancy and the age of 18. That’s a lot of people and fortunately there are many community activities that do help the homeless and we just try to do our part,” Butterworth said.

Weikel of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough described several ways her group will use the grant money they received.

“Well, in Hillsborough County, we’ll be using the funding to assist families from becoming homeless with assistance with rent and mortgage and utilities. And then helping families and individuals get into permanent housing with that funding, there’s that same type of assistance with rent, mortgage, deposits and all that stuff, because ... if we prevent homelessness, it doesn’t grow.”

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