Council President Ron Salem has invested $13,000 toward a Changing Homelessness pilot program that will help those on the brink of losing their housing.
The funding, which was presented to the local organization Friday, comes from remaining funds raised for Salem’s council president installation ceremony held back in June. The money must be donated to an IRS registered nonprofit organization, according to the City Council office.
Salem chose Changing Homelessness to help the organization establish a homelessness diversion program. That program’s potential was discussed during a recent meeting of the homelessness committee, which was established by Mayor Donna Deegan’s office to help provide recommendations to aid specific homelessness issues.
The committee recommended $200,000 for a homelessness diversion pilot program, which aims to help divert 10% of people seeking immediate assistance out of the homeless response system and back into safe housing for at least 90 days.
Salem’s donation provides an immediate start to aid in this particular issue.
Asked why he decided on Changing Homelessness as the recipient of the money, Salem said he had been intrigued by the issue in relation to the mental health offender program, which also deals frequently with people without housing.
“I saw the statistics that (Dawn Gilman, CEO of Changing Homelessness) released on the roughly 1,200 that were counted this last time,” Salem said, noting that 700 of those 1,200 were homeless for the first time.
“(That) really grabbed me,” Salem said. “What could we have done as a community to pay someone’s rent, repair their car, buy them some groceries and maybe have prevented those people from becoming homeless?”
Part of tackling the homelessness issue in Jacksonville is trying to make sure people don’t lose their homes to begin with.
“Our Official 2023 Point in Time Count showed that 30% of the people we talked to were unhoused for the very first time in their lives,” Gilman stated in a news release. “With diversion funding, we could have helped some of these folks access services and stay off the streets. Diversion services is just what it sounds like: diverting individuals from homelessness before they even enter our system.”
The organization explained that the financial assistance is generally short-term or even one-time assistance to get a household through an unexpected, temporary situation like a job loss, illness or divorce.
Changing Homelessness Board Chair Brad Russell said the board was grateful for Salem’s donation.
“This donation will go toward funding an unmet critical need in Jacksonville — diversion. There are a growing number of people who are just one disaster away from homelessness,” Russell said. “With the rising cost of rent, housing and other necessary expenses, we are seeing more and more people who need short-term assistance to bridge that gap to the next paycheck.”
He said a growing number of unhoused people have been seniors whose fixed incomes simply don’t go as far as they used to.
Gilman said that while the funding cannot help everyone, she expects it to “go a surprisingly long way.”
And, perhaps, there might be some more regular funding for diversion programs in the future.
Salem said he was in the process of developing legislation that would establish a trust fund, specifically to be used for this issue.
“I’m hoping we can set it up to where it is a long-term perpetual fund that can be used for this purpose,” Salem said. “Now people say, ‘Well, what about the chronic homeless?’
“I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I think we can go a long way to solving this portion of the homeless problem,” Salem said.