Changing face of ‘homelessness’ addressed with new campus

Changing face of ‘homelessness’ addressed with new campus

The I.M. Sulzbacher Center vision of “ending homelessness one person at a time” just got closer to fulfillment.

At Transformations, the Center’s annual fundraiser, guests were delighted to hear great news: Sulzbacher Center is planning to build a new campus for women, children, and families, aptly named Sulzbacher Village.

After 20 years of offering comprehensive services to Jacksonville’s homeless men, women, and children at locations downtown and at Jacksonville Beach, the new campus will reach more homeless to provide food, shelter, comprehensive health care, and life-skills training.

Sulzbacher President and CEO, Cindy Funkhouser, said in a press release that “Sulzbacher Village will build its new campus outside of the downtown core, where our homeless women and families can live safely and continue to access the services they need to put their lives back together.”

The facility will include studio, one-, and two-bedroom units to house single women, female veterans, and two parent families, with a total of 70 units accommodating up to 310 people, while 30 more units will house women and families in need of short-term emergency housing and medical respite care.

Land gift moves project one step closer

“Women and children are the largest segment of homeless today. There are 200 at Sulzbacher Center, with a waiting list,” said W.C. Gentry, who not only chairs the “Opening Doors” fundraising campaign, but who was instrumental in helping the Center obtain land needed for the new Village.

Adobe Photoshop PDFIn 2012 when his father died at age 94, Gentry sought to honor his dad and talked with the minister about using 4.5 acres of church land for a playground in his father’s name.

However, Gentry said he knew of the Sulzbacher Center’s long-time dream of the building project. He said he put two and two together and spoke with people at the Center about the church’s available acreage.

“The church embraced the idea of using the land for the Sulzbacher Center’s project,” said Gentry. The United Methodist Church agreed to a long-term lease for $1 per year, he said, adding that the plan fits with the Methodist Church Conference’s commitment to do local missionary work for communities in need.

Fostering forward momentum for the project was Dan Murphy, Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Fidelity National Financial, Inc. in Jacksonville.

“We made the decision to go forward with Sulzbacher Village for women, children, and families,” explained Murphy of his time as Sulzbacher Center Board Chair during 2014-15 fiscal year. “This has been kind of a dream around the organization for a long time.” In addition to serving on Sulzbacher’s board, on the first Wednesday of every month, a group of Fidelity National employees prepare meals from scratch, while another group serves the meals for up to 500 people at the Center.

“We’ve been doing that for five years now, and it’s very popular among Fidelity employees – they can’t hit the respond button fast enough [when the email request for volunteers goes out every month],” Murphy said.

The Opening Doors fundraising campaign has so far raised $16 million, with about $11 million awarded in the form of low-income tax credits from the State of Florida (Florida Housing Finance Corporation) along with other programs, while almost $5 million more was raised from individual and foundation donations.

The initial seed money was provided by Gentry, who expects the balance of $2.5 million to be raised by the public campaign by the end of 2015.

Women, children, and families at Sulzbacher Village will have access to case management, job training, life-skills training, special programs for female veterans, and an 8,000-square-foot health center with a focus on pediatric medical, dental, vision, and behavioral health services. In addition, those health services will be available to children in the surrounding neighborhood.

Not only will the project provide more housing for women and children as well as men with children, it will free up space to expand Sulzbacher’s downtown services for childless men in need. “City officials are excited; this is going to be a great thing and will open more space for homeless men,” Gentry said, adding “Cindy has done an incredible job running the Center.”

By Vince Iampietro
Resident Community News
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