By LEAH STRATMANN
The needs of the rural poor continue to increase as seasonal work disappears and the after effects of a tepid summer season unable to provide the usual number of people with jobs has a domino effect on need.
Chuck Tucker, the manager of the rural relief food pantry in Bruce reports the pantry ran out of food on Jan. 18 about a half hour before the pantry was due to close for the day. “A lot of that is because of the change in delivery dates from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). We had 118 families come to the pantry on Jan. 15. We did better on Jan. 29 when we had 132 families come to the pantry. The USDA delivery helped quite a bit. At least right now I’m not desperate. We will be open again on Feb. 12,” Tucker said.
All of the services of the Rural Relief Fund are getting some help and attention from a variety of sources. The Okaloosa Walton Homeless Continuum of Care/Opportunity, Inc. is once again conducting a point-in-time count to try and get an accurate count of the numbers of homeless in Walton County. According to federal guidelines, homelessness does not just mean those without a physical roof, but also those live in substandard housing that may lack heat or running water.
The definition of homelessness is further being refined by passage of the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH), which reauthorizes the homeless assistance programs that are administered by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HEARTH provides greater decision making at the local level, more closely aligns the HUD definition of homelessness with other federal agency definitions and expands resources for emergency shelter and supportive services, provides a framework for greater homeless prevention activity, and allows communities the flexibility to implement a range of housing solutions.
Last year’s point-in-time count resulted in a grant of $725,000 being given to Okaloosa and Walton counties from the Homeless Prevention/ Rapid Re-housing Program. Lenore Wilson, director of Opportunity, Inc. said the grant stipulated that exactly 19.6 percent of the grant or $142,000 be spent in Walton County and the grant extends through the end of June 2011.
Wilson said, “So what has Walton County gotten for this money? Forty families have received assistance for homeless prevention, meaning that they were in imminent danger of homelessness (three-day notice of eviction is the norm), and needed help catching up with back rent and utility payments, and a little help going forward. Another $37,546.42 has gone in payments to landlords and utility companies on behalf of these 40 clients, and an additional $18,751 has gone into housing stabilization costs, which can be anything from legal services, credit repair, case management, budget classes, and assistance with training and employment programs….
Read the full story in the February 10, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.