Freeman fighting to facilitate shelter needs

Vice-Mayor Leanna Freeman is spearheading the “Home Again St. Johns” site location committee, and, this morning, she brought along Historic City News and leaders from Jacksonville’s Sulzbacher Center for tours of the St. Francis House and Wildflower Clinic.

Freeman, who is also a member of the board of Good Samaritan Health Centers, says the needs of the community’s poor for housing and health care are becoming of increased interest.

“I recently paid a visit to the Sulzbacher Center where I toured the medical and housing facilities,” Freeman told Historic City News Editor Michael Gold. “I found that they set the “gold standard” for the hopes of our community.”

Freeman says Sulzbacher Center directors were “extremely helpful” and eager to share information that could benefit St. Augustine in its efforts to advance a plan for transitional housing, temporary medical care, and a point of referral to other social service agencies.

Cindy Funkhouser, Chief Program Officer of the Sulzbacher Center and Health Services Administrator Kathleen Patneau, joined Reneé Morris, Executive Director of the St. Francis House, for a tour of the intake, housing and food service areas of the only full time emergency shelter between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach.

Bob Richards, St. Francis House Kitchen Manager, explained measures the facility takes to meet demands to deliver a hot meal, seven days a week. Anyone of any means may come to the shelter, whose 1984 beginnings were as a local soup kitchen, and, between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon, receive a balanced, nutritional meal. Morris says, “The food is excellent. I eat here myself, every day.”

The St. Francis House mission also includes a migrant outreach program that began in 1987 and became permanent in 1989. This seasonal, supplemental feeding program serves approximately 300 to 500 farm workers daily in the various camps around Hastings.

Of course, Sulzbacher is a facility with a multi-million dollar annual budget where St. Francis House serves St. Johns, Clay, Putnam, and Flagler Counties with a modest annual budget of about $700,000 in cash and about $600,000 in-kind donations. However, for several reasons, the centers do have similarities and face similar funding and service delivery challenges; even if on a different scale.

The exchange of ideas was productive and the group was joined by City Manager John Regan as they continued their tour at the Wildflower Clinic.

Freeman said, “I am very excited about the Sulzbacher Center’s show of support for our community in our efforts to provide long term solutions to our transitional housing and health care issues.”

Last September, members of the St. Francis House board, suffered through a five-hour meeting of the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency — where they were denied a request for a 67-bed expansion and the relocation of the emergency shelter from Washington Street, downtown, to a former county fire station site on Old Moultrie Road.

Morris says that St. Francis House never lost sight of its charitable mission to see people treated with dignity; regardless of their means or immediate situation in life. “Despite what some may have imagined, we demand that overnight clients be screened, sober, and look presentable. After seven days, they are expected to pay daily housing fees that range between $5.00 per day to $300 per month as they work their way back into society’s mainstream.”

Morris says that she enjoys the support and understanding of her board and that Freeman’s participation and commitment to keep things moving towards a beneficial outcome are welcomed.

Morris agreed with Freeman’s assessment of the Sulzbacher visit, “We continue exploring the possibility of potential partnerships.”

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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