ZEPHYRHILLS — City officials started the new year on a positive note after learning Zephyrhills had been awarded a $76,598 state grant to help prevent homelessness.
City Manager Jim Drumm wrote the mayor and council on Thursday to let them know he received word of the grant over the New Year’s holiday.
“We got the full amount we applied for,” he said. “I think it was the maximum amount they could award.”
Drumm had come under criticism last spring when he opted not to apply for the 2013 Emergency Solutions Grant. The county’s Coalition for the Homeless and city of Dade City were both awarded sizable grants earlier this year.
Zephyrhills partnered with Chancey Road Christian Church and the Samaritan Project to apply for leftover program funds in October. The program is designed to assist families that are homeless or at risk of losing their homes, and it can pay for rent, deposits, utility bills and relocation expenses.
“I think this will be a great program to help our city residents that are having difficulty in paying the rent and/or utility bills,” Drumm said. “This number has increased over the past few years due to the down economy. When the press wrote of the grant application being submitted to the state in this past fall, we received numerous calls from citizens to see if funding was available yet. There truly is a need in Zephyrhills.”
The Rev. Tim Mitchell, pastor at Chancey Road Christian Church, said the grant will allow the volunteer Samaritan Project to expand on the services it already provides. “We’ll be able to help more folks,” Mitchell said. “We won’t have to turn folks away.”
It is only available to Zephyrhills residents. “We weren’t going to restrict it, but we found out we had to,” Drumm said.
Carol Scheckler, volunteer coordinator for Samaritan Project, said the grant stipulates that more than half of the funds be used for “rapid re-housing” or getting homeless people, or those who are about to be homeless, established in homes again, with families with children as a priority. Scheckler said excited is not the word for how she feels. “I’m over the moon,” she said. “In one word — ecstatic. Now we can get people in homes that should be in homes.”
The nonprofit provides the required matching funds through cash donations and volunteer hours, Mitchell said.
“I think once the word gets out, we’re going to be overwhelmed with applications,” he said. “No one will receive assistance without first going through a strict interview process.”
Anyone in need of assistance should contact the Samaritan Project directly at (813) 810-8670. The earliest grants could be awarded in February.
Drumm had received some complaints from council members and the public earlier because he did not take advantage of this grant in March. Drumm said he didn’t have enough time to complete the application. He pledged to work with the volunteer group to submit an application this year.
But after learning there were leftover funds available in October, city staff “quickly scrambled” to submit the application before the one-week deadline, he said.
Mitchell and Drumm said they plan to apply for the 2014 grant, as well.
“Now that we’ve got a partner locked in, we should be able to pull it together really quickly,” Drumm said. “We know we can do it short notice. With a little more time, we can even write a better proposal.”
Tribune reporter Laura Kinsler contributed to this report.