Ocala gets $250,000 for homeless

Homeless people gather together in a parking lot near the intersection of Northwest First Avenue and Northwest Third Street in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, July 20, 2020. The homeless people who stay and live in the parking lot have become a familiar sight recently in downtown Ocala. Many of the homeless say that drug dealers come and drive up to deal in the parking lot and that the Ocala Police Department ignores the problem. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted April 9, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee, ainslie@ocalagazette.com

Homeless people gather together in a parking lot near the intersection of Northwest First Avenue and Northwest Third Street. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

The Ocala City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an agreement with Marion County to accept $250,000 from the Emergency Solutions Grant Program (ESG) to aid homeless people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The $250,000 is part of the $3.96 billion in CARES Act funds that went to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Sept. 1. The ESG funds are to be used to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19 among individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“The city entered into an agreement with Marion County so the Office of Homeless Prevention could use a portion of the county’s Emergency Solutions Grant Coronavirus funds to pay for hotel stays associated with COVID-19,” Ashley Dobbs, communications manager for the City of Ocala, wrote in an email.

However, the city can spend some of the money on other items to help the homeless.

The funds were split into two categories: street outreach and essential services.

Street outreach includes engagement efforts, emergency mental health services, case management, transportation, emergency health services, bus passes and identification cards. A total of $50,000 of the money will support street outreach efforts.

The remaining $200,000 will go towards essential services including case management, childcare, education, employment assistance, outpatient health services, legal services, life skills training, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, transportation and motel vouchers.

Sheltering Ocala’s homeless is the priority.

According to the city, there is a growing need for non-traditional, non-congregate sheltering.

In response to COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued homeless shelter guidelines, which reduced the number of people per shelter.

The Salvation Army had to cut its capacity by half, said Major Dwayne Durham of the local chapter.

“We are consistently at full capacity within those guidelines,” Durham said in a text message.

Instead, homeless people and families are having to stay in hotel rooms, which costs more than six times a shelter bed, said Karla Grimsley, CEO of Interfaith Emergency Services.

“We simply don’t have enough shelter beds in our county,” Grimsley added in a text.

The hope is that the funds help with the shelter shortage. The city has until Sept. 30 to spend the money.

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