Leon CARES funds help fight against hunger, homelessness
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Housing and food are two of the areas hit hardest in the fallout from the COVID -19 pandemic in a non-discriminating fashion.
Take for example the single mother who is a frontline worker in the fight against the coronavirus. Then, there is an unusually high number of young professionals who are finding themselves among the 700 people who confront homelessness locally daily.
Amanda Wander, Executive director for the Big Bend Continuum of Care, has seen the housing issues. The need for food is well known by Sheri Hubbard, Director of Community Relations for Second Harvest of the Big Bend.
Both organizations are recipients of Leon CARES assistance to fund their drive to reduce food insecurity and homelessness in the area. A total of $4.4 million will go to the organizations.
The money comes from $51.2 million that the county received from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act that Congress passed in March to help the economic recover from the pandemic.
Thousands of homeless and unemployed people are expected to benefit from the Leon CARES funds.
“These (food and homelessness) are issues that we need to address especially during this pandemic,” said Shington Lamy, director of Leon County Office of Human Service and Community Partnerships. “A lot of people don’t have the means because they are not working or there is no job to go to.
“They don’t have a way to pay their bills or the other issue is food insecurity. We have also seen an increase there because of COVID-19.”
Hubbard has seen a lot of the food insecurity during the pandemic. About 6,800 people are struggling to find a meal every day. As many as 16,000 children in the county also experience food insecurity.
“A lot of food intervention needs to happen and with the Leon CARES funding will help Second Harvest deliver that critical food intervention to our hungry neighbors, especially the under-serviced and vulnerable population,” Hubbard said. “We are really focusing on our most vulnerable citizens; children, seniors and the homeless with this funding.”
A spike in need for food has put Second Harvest’s distribution site at 40 each month, especially the underserved communities. Some volunteers also distribute food door to door.
Layoffs or the loss of jobs have led many professionals to the food pantries across the area.
“There are just so much people right now during the pandemic that are visiting food pantries for the first time; a lot of poor people and a lot of young professionals,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard estimated that Second Harvest distributed about 14 million pounds of food last year. She expects the number to be higher this year.
Wander is also seeing a greater number of people looking for shelter. Her agency oversees the Homeless Management Information System, which captures information of homeless people to help determine their needs.
The non-profit groups that she works with includes the Kearney Center, Big Bend Homeless Coalition, Hope Community, Catholic Charities, Ability First, Refuge House, and CCYS. Most of them have made structural change to meet CDC requirements, while accommodating the people they serve during the pandemic.
Money from Leon CARES will go to paying for some of the changes put in place because of the pandemic, Wander said.
“We had taken some pretty extreme measures early on with agencies moving people into hotels and kept our number of COVID cases within our homeless community very low,” she said. “We have not had more than five people tested positive for COVID.”