For a lucky few disabled homeless people, brand-new housing is just a couple of months away. That's because the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC) and Peace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCPC), have partnered with the New York State-based Beaver Farm Foundation, to reconfigure and renovate two old, Navy-constructed buildings at the city-owned Poinciana Plaza housing property on Duck Avenue.
The ground floors of both buildings are being transformed into large, efficiency-type apartments, which will each house two roommates. The second-floor apartments will become two-bedroom, one-bath units, for intact families.
"These units will be made available to very, very low-income people with severe disabilities," said FKOC President and Chief Executive Officer Rev. Stephen Braddock. "We've been noticing lately that more and more of our clients are older people, many of whom are using walkers, and sometimes wheelchairs. This housing will be the first on the Poinciana property that's in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and accessible to all handicapped clients."
Renovation work on the buildings began late last week, and is expected to continue over the summer. It's all happening thanks to a Jubilee Grant, made available to PCPC earlier this year. Additional financial assistance is being provided by the Beaver Farm, a 100-year-old social justice organization, whose administrator, Nonnie Braddock is The Rev. Stephen Braddock's mother.
"This is such an important project," Nonnie Braddock said. "In this economy, where so much funding is being cut back, it is our human privilege to help these people. We've partnered with FKOC for many years. They have the personnel and drive that's needed to get these projects going, they just need help raising the money to make it happen. Fortunately FKOC has a terrific success rate, which is helpful when you're trying to convince others of the need to help."
Once the new housing comes online, it will join other FKOC projects already operating nearby, including the Nancy Rossell Center, aka Sunlight House, for single women, women with children, expectant mothers, intact families with one or more members living with a disability; the Sunflower House, for women and children; Sunrise House, which is phase two of the coalition's men's transitional housing program; and Sunrich House, which is phase three of men's transitional housing program.
These buildings provide 102 beds, in 52 bedrooms for FKOC clients.
The coalition also operates the Neece Center, aka Patterson House, providing emergency shelter and stabilization for up to 20 men in recovery from alcohol and/or substance abuse, and the Loaves and Fish Food Pantry, which dispenses nonperishable food, personal hygiene items and diapers, with help from the Episcopal Charities of South East Florida.
In total the coalition serves more than 300 individuals and families annually, with more than 80 percent of them transitioning from homelessness to stable housing.
"Our church is going to be involved, not just managing the construction money, but our elder Niels Hubbell, is going to be the construction coordinator, pro bono," said the Rev. Larry Shenck, of PCPC. "Our motivation is that there's very little low-cost housing out there for handicapped people. We've partnered with FKOC for nearly 25 years now, and are hoping we can continue to build more housing in the future, with other funds available to us through the Presbytery of Tropical Florida. Many of our members have already been over to work on the buildings in the other projects."
In a city with the highest percentage of homeless people in a state with among the largest homeless populations in the nation, any and all new housing is a step in the right direction, according to Braddock.
"We have one client at FKOC who's in her 80s, and like many older homeless people, she has simply outlived her resources," Braddock said. "She has three grown children, whom she expected might be able to take care of her in her old age, but they have now all died. There are a growing number of homeless in this demographic. Fortunately, I hope to have heads in beds at Poinciana by July."