Bradenton's Salvation Army hopes to fill vital need for housing homeless families

May 14, 2013 

Long lacking much space to shelter homeless women and families, Bradenton's Salvation Army is poised to construct a three-story building with affordable transitional housing for those two underserved populations.

The nonprofit agency wants to engage the community -- especially the neighborhood surrounding its headquarters on 14th Street West -- in a discussion of the concept. Thursday's noon town hall gathering will be staged under a tent on the vacant land adjacent to organization's current campus -- where this "service enriched housing" will be constructed should the project advance.

Currently, the Salvation Army can only accommodate a handful of women individually or with their children in six rooms set aside for that purpose -- five suites for families and one room with three bunkbeds for single homeless women.

Husbands and wives are not allowed to remain together in the limited women's shelter.

The men's shelter, on the other hand, has 105 beds plus floor space for an additional 50.

The imbalance is striking and one that advocates of services for families and individuals facing homelessness recognized long ago.

The lack of a shelter for entire nuclear families is the most critical gap to fill. The new facility will provide that along with housing for single fathers. Studio apartments will accommodate single men and women.

The Salvation Army has raised $2 million in capital funds for this project -- a mixed-use building with retail on the ground floor and 12 to 24 living units upstairs.

Finding a retail or other financial partner is vital; the project cannot move forward without securing a source of operational funds.

That partnership will play a role in determining the exact number of apartments, too.

"We've got the money to build it, but we need a financial partner to help run it, whether it's retail or any entity. If we don't get one, it's not going to happen," one of the agency's board members, Ed Dick, stated in Vin Mannix's report on this issue in Sunday's Herald.

That would be tragic.

The agency stresses that this project will not produce a "flop house."

As service enriched housing, shelter residents will be expected to hold down a job, pay affordable rent, save money and attend life skills coaching to propel them toward economic security and upward social mobility.

Plus, they will be held accountable for fulfilling their individualized program until they can gain independence and move into their own residence -- ideally within three to six months.

The most appealing aspect to this project is crystal clear: Clients must be determined to reverse their misfortune and improve their circumstances.

"We're not in the business of people bumming around," Salvation Army Major Duane Durham told the Herald. "We want them moving up to that next level. It may not be for everybody. We want to make sure sustainability is in place. We want to have people coming through and conceivably not have to come back for service or assistance -- other than spiritual."

Durham also intends that the project complements the nearby Village of the Arts and contributes to the economic vitality of the neighborhood. Plus, the city of Bradenton has encouraged mixed-use development for years now, and this fits the bill.

One of the critical elements to ensure the project's success is that partnership. We hope one steps forward soon.

Community support is also essential. The Salvation Army will not proceed without it.

Manatee County is desperate for additional short-term, transitional housing for families, and we cannot imagine opposition because the need is so great. Let your voice be heard at Thursday's town hall.

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