PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — On Thursday, The City of Pensacola City Council voted unanimously to provide $200,000 to Re-entry Alliance Pensacola to continue its operation of the Lodges and Emergency Shelter, a shelter that services homeless women and children.
From Sept. 3, 2021, to July 31, 2022, REAP’s Lodges and Emergency Shelter has provided the following services to the homeless community in Pensacola:
- Emergency housing for a total of 816 individual clients for a total of 12,093-night stays.
- Served a total of 13,240 meals, including a hot evening meal with protein, two vegetables, starch, drink and dessert and a breakfast snack. The meals were provided under contract with Bright Bridge Ministries and delivered ready for serving.
- Housed 55 clients under funding by the CARES Act/ESG programs in collaboration with REAP Rapid Housing.
- Housed 10 clients in supported housing without using RRH funding.
- Assisted six clients with rental applications.
- Assisted 26 clients in obtaining new or replacement ID cards.
- Assisted 27 clients in obtaining a new or replacement Social Security card.
- Helped three clients sign up for Social Security benefits.
- Helped 18 clients sign up for Food Stamps.
- Assisted 12 children get enrolled in daycare.
- Had 60 clients enroll in the Escambia County Community Clinic.
- Assisted 21 clients to get their prescription medications, linked three clients with the mobile response team for mental health counseling, and helped one homeless male get enrolled in Lakeview Lodges.
- Helped nine clients relocate from Pensacola to Chicago, Tampa, Ohio, California and Atlanta to reunite with family and one client to Tampa for drug rehab.
Vince Whibbs, REAP executive director, said the Lodges is a 6,000 square feet facility that REAP opened in July 2021. It is on leased property from the Salvation Army and has a capacity of 52 beds. He said it is used now as a women’s and children’s only emergency shelter.
“I am pleased to say that, for the last 11 months, it has practically been fully occupied,” said Whibbs. “The average amount of people is 45 women and children, each night, which means over the last year, we have successfully housed more than 14,000 women and children.”
Whibbs approached the council originally requesting $389,420.22, which would provide REAP the funds to operate the facility for a year. During the meeting, he lowered the requested amount to $365,369.
“The reason for that reduction is that there has been some additional funding that has been provided to us,” said Whibbs. “Opening Doors provided $25,000 and we also received funding from emergency shelter and food funding. So, the net of those two things reduced the amount we are requesting.”
Though the property is located in Escambia County, Whibbs said it is important to recognize that a majority of the people they serve were former residents of the encampment under the I-10 Bridge, as well as serving people from other organizations within the city and the county.
Whibbs said all of the funding for the Lodges expired June 30 and REAP absorbed the cost of operations.
“We said we didn’t want to close this facility,” said Whibbs. “We don’t want to turn these people out. So, we absorbed that funding for the month of July and here we are two-thirds through the month of August, and we are still doing it, but we really need some help.”
Councilwoman Teniade Broughton said she supports the request for funding but has some concerns about some of their facilities being in the county.
“We haven’t been getting much help from the county, with the city stepping up and carrying our weight, even though it is not our share, but I would hope that supports your efforts as the safety net where the county has failed us,” said Broughton.
Whibbs said as he is showing up to request money from the city, he is also showing up to the county asking for the same request.
“I feel very strongly that they have an obligation,” said Whibbs. “I know that they have money, but I can’t wait till they say yes.”
As a part of the “transition” program at the Lodges, Whibbs said they do try and collect money for a night’s stay, but it is difficult.
“There are some people that will pay some,” said Whibbs. “Normally it amounts to $500 a month, which includes every single resident we house. Usually, a woman with three children is asked to pay $10 a night. If they pay it, they pay. If they don’t, they don’t. We aren’t going to kick them out for not paying. If they have a source of income, we encourage them to make payments, because you can’t live free forever.”
City Neighborhoods Administrator Lawrence Powell said there are no boundaries when asked if these organizations operate within the county or the city.
“The citizens they serve, for the most part, reside here or were residents of the City of Pensacola,” said Powell. “Mr. Whibbs and REAP is probably one of five of our most performing organizations and at the end of the day, if we did not have them doing what they do, our situation in Pensacola would be most out of control. So, I would ask that you consider that, that we not rise to the level that some cities in the state of Florida are dealing with in relation to homeless situations. REAP is bridging the gap. I think providing this request would give them the space and time to secure other fundings as we move forward. I’ve been riding this for two years now, and there are some organizations that are making major contributions to mitigating our homeless situation in Pensacola and REAP is one of them.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Brahier said the council needs to encourage the county to get on the ball with them. She then made a suggestion that the council pay $200,000 instead of the requested amount, which Whibbs said would give REAP six months of funds.
“I think we shouldn’t go the full amount of money right now,” said Brahier. “We’ve got other organizations that are going to be in this exact position as soon as their money runs out. I think we need to be careful in how we divvy this out. That doesn’t mean not help, but it means look at it without the full funds and wait for them to be able to apply to the county.”
Escambia County still has $4 million of funds to be used on homelessness in the county. At their recent Committee of the Whole meeting, they discussed the homelessness issue and agreed that the staff would bring a form on how entities can come to the county for funding, instead of making a big purchase.
“We are going to need the county to step up,” said Mayor Grover Robinson. “I think this is tailor-made for REAP and I do think giving them some time would allow REAP to come back and get that from the county.”
Whibbs said they will continue to make their best efforts to make certain that the Escambia County commissioners step up to the plate to pay their reasonable amount.