Jacksonville takes first step to move city’s homeless into hotels

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Friday morning in an open field just west of downtown, dozens of Jacksonville’s homeless took what could be the first step in finding a permanent home.

People doing outreach for the city of Jacksonville’s Pathway to Home program registered participants who will be next in the line to receive a 30-day hotel stay paid with the city, state and federal funds. In addition to housing, the program also pays for food, and even mental health help.

A Jacksonville spokeswoman told News4Jax the first 53 participants will be taken to extended-stay hotels, where rapid rehousing specialists will help them find a permanent home, a job and even mental health help. The first people selected will be moved into their hotels starting Monday. The names of the hotels are being withheld for their own safety.

But many left frustrated when they learned the slots available with existing funding were filled. Additional men and women were but on the waiting list for the next available openings.

″I’m totally devasted that I’m not able to get into a hotel and I feel like I’ve been bamboozled,” said Rome, who didn’t want to use his last name. “A lot of people feel the same way.”

″I’m on permanent disability so I can’t work but I can figure out what to do with my life and where I’m going to go if I’m going to stay here in Jacksonville or go to another state or city,” Harry Raymond said.

Willie Huggins said if he gets in, the program could change his family’s life.

“It will help me save a little money that I get from unemployment,” Huggins said. “I’m thinking about my son’s graduation, cap, gowns yearbook -- the stuff people take for granted. But in these struggling times, parents, these kids deserve this.”

City officials say they are prepared to work with people in various situations, with the ultimate goal of finding them a home.

“It’s good. It shows improvement in the right direction,” community activist Brennan Reed said. “It shows that people do care and we are a city that’s attempting to show that we care about everybody equally. Some people are just in a tight spot. They need a little help, a push forward.”

The Pathway to Home program, announced on Wednesday, is a collaborative effort of multiple local social service agencies.

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