Nearly a year and a half after its groundbreaking ceremony and more than eight months after actually clearing the site of trees, there is little more at Home Again St. Johns’ State Road 207 property than a lot of broken ground, but officials say things may start moving soon.
“We are getting ready to do about another $40,000 worth of site work,” Mike Davis, vice president of the homeless service provider’s board of directors, told The Record on Thursday. “And then when the new fiscal year for the county opens up, we’ve got another $150,000 from the county so we will do another $150,000 of site work after that.”
He then added, “We are also in the process of modifying our PUD (planned unit development) so we can have Ability Housing come in and do the housing component on the back half of the property.”
The ultimate goal for the site is to build a homeless services campus, that, once completed, is expected to include up to 100 units of housing, a possible medical clinic and a “united services center” that will include Home Again’s offices as well as office space for other agencies that provide services to the area’s homeless. The center will also have a commercial kitchen and cafeteria and shower and laundry facilities.
Price estimates for the whole project have hovered around $10 million to $11 million, but Home Again officials have said it is unclear how much of that they will have to raise as they explore partnerships for the project.
Davis said Thursday that getting Ability Housing — a Jacksonville-based affordable housing provider — on board is also a step forward because they will seek their own funding stream for the housing component
“Which was always our goal — was to partner with somebody else to do that,” he said. “Home Again did not want to become another housing agency.”
That leaves the organization on the hook for the united services center, and while leadership is still exploring sources for funding for that, Davis said, the focus right now is to have the site ready for building once funding is secured.
That’s what the nearly $200,000 worth of site work will move them toward.
“Now we’ve got to put in all the underground utilities, we’ve got to put in the drainage systems,” he said. “We have to be pad ready for Ability House and everybody else.”
Davis said he predicted that most of that could be done by year’s end.
“That’s the thing about site work, it’s pretty expensive but it’s pretty quick,” he said.
In the meantime, Home Again Executive Director Ellen Walden said the facility they do have on the property is going to be opening up another day during the week to help the homeless from the downtown area and on the north side of St. Augustine.
In a partnership with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Walden said, they will be providing transportation on Tuesdays to bring in people from those two areas who need shower and laundry services.
That begins this week.
Home Again will also provide a meal to those who visit “and help them apply for the benefits they may be entitled to, things like that,” Walden said.
“And then on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday we have a full-blown drop-in day here where those same services are provided,” she said.
Mondays and Thursdays are available for the application services but are not considered full service days.
Walden said the expansion to Tuesday only highlights the need to get the service center built because she is seeing evidence that the homeless population is growing.
“We have seen a significant increase in new people that are coming through the door that we haven’t seen before,” she said. “And we are still trying to figure out where they are coming from, they are just not the same people that we have been dealing with.”
She struck an optimistic tone about the future of the site project, but said she realized that it ultimately comes down to the cash available.
“We could have had this thing built two years ago had we had money,” she said. “Money is a hard thing to come by these days.”
“I think once this thing gets started, I mean really making progress,” she added, “it’s going to take off.”
Davis, too, acknowledged the project’s slow speed, but said he, and others involved, are hard at work.
“I would prefer that this thing was already done as well,” he said. “But it’s awful hard when you go through the economic downturn we’ve gone through to raise money for homeless when people are fighting to keep their own homes.”