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Program in Manatee County helping homeless families planning big expansion

Help to Home plans to 53 homes for families
hope village.png
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jul 27, 2023

BRADENTON, Fla. — Carol Whitmore knows what it’s like to be homeless. The former Manatee County commissioner was living on Anna Maria Island — left to fend for herself – when she was just a teenager.

“I was 15 when I was homeless, and I would have done anything to be able to do something like this to keep a roof over my head.”

Dozens and dozens of families across Manatee County are worried about where they will sleep tonight.

While there are shelters out there, a program called Help to Home is delivering a permanent solution for families. It’s been so successful that it looks to expand in a big way.

Hope Village will be built on vacant land off 30th Avenue West, near the 14th Street corridor and about two miles south of downtown.

The duplex homes will provide homes for 53 families.

People need to have minor children in order to participate. Most participants are single mothers, according to Whitmore.

“They're the ones that are at risk of keeping this cycle of homelessness generational to their to their children if somebody doesn't stop that cycle,” she said. “That’s where we come in.”

The program rents homes at a below-market rate.

“We have such a housing crisis in this area because housing is not affordable,” Salvation Army spokesperson Kelly French said. “This program helps move those families out of our shelter and into someplace that they can truly call home.”

The Salvation Army estimates that between 1,200 to 1,800 people in Manatee County are homeless.

For Whitmore, this program is a way to give back.

“I said when I was young that I was going to do something in this community to thank everybody that helped me when I was 15," she said.

In order to participate, parents must have and maintain their job. The program will provide job training to help parents advance at work so that they can support their families with just the one job.

Parents must also have or open a savings and checking account. As part of the 2-year agreement they sign, they have to work with a financial advisor to ensure that they continue to prosper.

Those financial advisors must also approve an expense that is more than $50 other than food.

“That's probably a hard thing that a lot of people don't really understand, but you know, when you're in this situation, you get a few bucks in your wallet, you're gonna go spend it,” Whitmore said. "And that's why you're in this situation."

Help to Home currently has four properties that provide homes for eight families.

It has raised nearly the about $2 million dollars needed to begin construction of Phase 1 – which will include 16 homes. Along with those homes, the program plans to also lay down the infrastructure for Phase 2 when it builds the first.

Whitmore said they hope to have phase one complete by early next year.

Help to Home does not receive any government money – which enables the program to operate with the stringent requirements it has.

The program is supported by foundations and other donations.

Anyone who would like to know more about the program or donate should visit: helptohome.org.

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