Across the nation, as people move into the season of family and feasting and celebration, others survive hand to mouth.
The annual Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Nov. 12-20, always just prior to Thanksgiving, is designed to not only draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness, but to move people to help.
Among the organizations in Citrus County that focus on getting people out of homelessness and into a better life is Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition. Here’s their story:
When and how did your agency start in Citrus County?
Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition began in 2000 when a small group of people identified a need to work together to address the needs of those experiencing homelessness. A Coalition of Citrus, Hernando, Lake and Sumter counties was needed in order to be able to apply for HUD Continuum of Care homeless dollars, and these four counties with their small populations needed to come together to make this feasible.
In 2010, Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition hosted a workshop where then-state senator Mike Fasano said, “The face of homelessness has changed. It’s no longer the guy in the woods, but it’s the single (parent) with several children, doubling up in an apartment or house with another family.
“The problem of homelessness is big and complex, too big for just government or the business community or faith-based organizations to solve,” he said.
What does your agency do? What is your mission/purpose as an agency?
The goal is to get every homeless person/household who wants it into secure housing. The vision statement is: “A home for every household.” The mission is to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring” using the Housing First model.
The Housing First approach says: “Get people into housing first and then do case management,” Barbara Wheeler, Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition executive director, told the Chronicle editorial board in 2020.
As she explained, “Housing First works because you can’t ‘fix’ people until you meet their basic needs. What we’ve found, when you move people into housing and they’re stable, they’re much more open to moving on with life. I’ve run a shelter, and people are worried about being kicked out, and that makes it very difficult to think about moving on if you’re constantly thinking about being back on the streets,” she said.
What is the annual budget and how is it funded?
Prior to COVID it was about $925,000. The organization received an influx of funds that will be spent down by June 30 of this year. Last year’s revenue was $1.8 million.
Last year, 92 percent of the funds received were from government grants, 4 percent from contributions, about 3 percent non-government grants, and the balance came from in-kind donations and memberships.
How many people on staff?
Currently Mid-Florida employs 13 full-time and two part-time staff members.
How many volunteers does Mid-Florida have? Are more needed, and if so, how can people volunteer?
Mid-Florida has a small number of volunteers. All volunteers are required to pass a level-two background check. People can contact our Director of Operations to apply. Call 352-697-0623.
What difference does Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition want to make in Citrus County?
“We want to end homelessness for all veterans who want housing, end homelessness for the most vulnerable and find ways to keep people from experiencing homelessness,” Wheeler said.
How has the pandemic affected the agency?
“The pandemic increased the need to meet with those experiencing homelessness to assure their immediate as well as health needs were being met and to keep them from getting COVID,” Wheeler said.
“Additional staff had to be hired at a time when people were sheltering at home. We were also involved with the health departments, identifying needs and collaborating to meet those needs,” she said. “As it was determined that housing truly was healthcare, we were awarded funds to provide shelter and move people into housing. This included holding competitions for organizations interested in operating programs, maintaining oversight of these programs and financial oversight of all funds.”
What keeps you motivated?
“When I started in this position, there were little funds to actually help people move from homelessness to housing, and that has changed,” Wheeler said. “While there are more needs than can be met, it is important to be there to address the needs of one household at a time with the hope that there can be a home for every household.
“This coalition has the responsibility to apply for funds through the federal and state governments on behalf of the organizations providing services throughout Citrus, Hernando, Lake and Sumter counties. Without this coalition, those funds would not be coming to our communities and allowing us to be able to move people from homelessness to housing,” she said.
How can the community help Mid-Florida help others?
Monetary donations are always needed to address the gaps not met with federal and state dollars and help Mid-Florida meet the match requirements of these grants.
Donations of cleaning items, kitchen items, and other items to give to those who are moving from homelessness to housing are also welcomed.
An on-going need is for landlords to work with the coalition and its partners to provide rentals to those in need of housing.
Also, they need people in the community to help identify those who are looking for assistance and refer them to Mid-Florida for a housing assessment.
Nancy Kennedy can be reached at 352-564-2927 or by email at