ORLANDO – City Commissioner Daisy Lynum recalls that when the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida wanted to open a shelter on W. Central Boulevard, she was against the idea, saying it was the wrong kind of service to bring to Parramore, a neighborhood in need of revitalization more than a program like this, she said.
So there was no small irony in the fact that Lynum was at the facility this morning to celebrate the groundbreaking for an expansion of the shelter – something she admitted to welcoming with open arms.
“I wasn’t pleased for many years to have this facility here,” Lynum said, but added that the new service center for homeless men being built on the property at 639 W. Central Boulevard would be different, because it wouldn’t just provide a temporary place to sleep or to get a meal.
“We have a great opportunity to bring the men here and get them into treatment,” Lynum said. “As a social worker, I’m fully aware of social services.”
This morning, city officials held a groundbreaking ceremony on the property, celebrating the start of construction on a new Men’s Service Center. It’s a collaborative project between Orange County, the city of Orlando, and the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program. Those funds are provided to cities and counties across the nation for projects like this, and the Men’s Service Center will cost $5.4 million to build.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs noted that the Orange County government contributed $5 million in CDBG funding, while the city of Orlando is covering the rest.
Once completed, it will include a variety of new services to assist homeless men, including life skills training, employment services, job training, health care referrals, and substance abuse recovery programs.
“This is more than a shelter,” Jacobs said. “This is about how important it is to get our men back on their feet into a productive lifestyle.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer agreed, and noted that at a time of federal cutbacks in Washington, the block grant program was truly delivering for the city’s hardest hit residents.
“We fight for those dollars in D.C. to keep that funding every year, and you can see this is a very good way to use those funds,” Dyer said.
Brent A. Trotter, president of the coalition, said this truly was an event to celebrate.
“Today is a historic day in the City Beautiful,” he said. “What was once a dream has now become a reality. There is a sense of accomplishment here.”
The coalition opened this shelter more than two decades ago, and last year served 457 families, Trotter noted.
“This month marks our 25th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than by breaking ground on this new Men’s Service Center,” he said. “We wanted to give people what they don’t know they need, and suddenly can’t live without.”
The men served by the shelter, he said, are very often shunned by society, or find themselves ridiculed and cast aside.
“They are viewed as an annoyance at best, and with contempt at worst,” Trotter said. “They are told they need to pull themselves up by their boot straps. But what if they have no boots?”
By expanding the coalition’s mission, he said, the coalition can help these men get their lives back on track.
“Now we will be able to present hope to more men,” Trotter said. “This facility and the men that it will serve will be historic in so many ways.”
Dyer agreed, saying “This is another partnership and collaboration as we seek to do better for those less fortunate. Sometimes it takes a little while and some perseverance to get where we need to be, but we are here now.”
And by opening a new center with resources directed at helping the men find jobs and a stable life, “We are not just providing a bed for one night or a meal,” Dyer said. “It’s about getting them back into a useful lifestyle.”
“We are each born with an innate need to be productive, and our homeless men are no different,” Jacobs added. “And that’s what this is about.”
Lynum said that’s what convinced her to support the expansion: the fact that it would help address the men’s underlying problems, and not just give them a temporary fix.
“We’re making sure you not only have somewhere to eat, you also have somewhere to work,” she said. “This is a great celebration for me.”
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