NCCSF fills an existing — and largely unfilled — need in this largely rural area. Hernando County, with a current population of 186,553, apparently has a homeless population estimated at 7500. Of the 21,800 children in Hernando's public schools, 3500 or 16% are homeless. These are the people whom NCCSF serves.
The Nature Coast Community Services Foundation seeks to serve this constituency by providing life supporting food, clothing, shoes, transportation, OTC medicines, counselling, and guidance not to keep the homeless in their current situation, but to help them lift themselves out of their poverty and back into being productive members of society once more.
The NCCSF is guided by the key value that every human being matters. This value generates our three core values: recognizing that homeless people are assets; that our work and the interaction we have with them is rooted in compassion; that we see homeless people as fellow teachers who offer to us both life experiences and an exceptional ability in caring. top->
Nature Coast Community Services Foundation provides essentials to help stabilize individuals (food, clothing, shoes, bedding, personal care items) and then it provides transportation to job interviews, to school and doctors, to Social Security or DMV to replace lost ID cards. And much more! We provide individual guidance, informal counselling, an enthusiastic cheering section, a friend to talk to in times of doubt, and someone who can give a sincere hug if a hug would help, or a gentle scolding if it is needed. We provide a way up and out. We provide hope.
All it takes is time, a dedicated group of volunteers, and money.
So how is Nature Coast Community Services Foundation doing?
To date, we are getting one person a month on average out of the woods, into a paying job, and into permanent housing. But for every person whom we help escape homelessness, another one or two find us.
The NCCSF's mission is to identify and help fund social needs existing in Florida's Nature Coast region that are not adequately addressed by existing governmental or private organizations.
We work to get people with severe mental or physical problems on disability. We work with the VA to find homeless veterans permanent housing.
But no matter whom we serve, our goal is to return them to being productive members of society again. top->
We dream of the day we will have an office and a storage area so we can merge all our operations and services under one roof. The storage area would help us organize the clothing, shoes, food, bedding, and toiletries that our work demands, and could be the mission-specific staging area we lack today. The administrative office and community center space would allow us to build on our current service base and expand those services to benefit a greater swath of the general public.
We dream of enhancing the educational, arts, and social underpinnings of society by establishing a Cultural Enrichment Center which does not currently exist in this area. The Center could become a multi-cultural focal point for music, art and theatre in the Nature Coast, featuring the work of local, regional, and national artists in an area starved for fine arts. It could also feature the remarkable artwork of the homeless community.
For instance, the Center would be home to the already existing Hernando County Youth Orchestra which offers no/low-cost musical training to children 6-to-18-years old, plus loans free instruments (as available) to student musicians whose families cannot afford to buy their own. In turn, the Orchestra provides free classical music concerts throughout the year at assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and public venues, repaying the community for its support while giving participating student musicians community service credit required for graduation.
The Center could host lecture series and free/low-cost classes to enhance the educational level of Nature Coast's citizens. Classes could include financial and computer literacy, English as a Second Language, entrepreneurship 101, how to write a memoir, or how to take better photographs, as well as more academically-oriented programs such as art of the Renaissance, appreciating various music genres, examining schools of philosophy, exploring science (astronomy and marine biology are popular topics here), discussing climate change and what we can to do to protect ourselves, discovering Florida history, studying a history of social movements such as Women's Suffrage, and investigating how historical events like the Magna Carta or Pearl Harbor still influence us today.
The Center would provide a welcoming place for local musicians and actors to perform before live audiences, and for local poets, artists and crafters to show their creativity and test out experimental or nascent ideas.
The Center could offer weekly "Mom's Night Out" evenings, to allow exhausted mothers to have three or four hours for themselves. Vetted volunteers would care for the children at little or no cost. Corollary programs would encourage stressed couples to have an evening for themselves to reconnect and strengthen their relationship away from the children, and caregivers of dementia patients to take a respite from their challenges.
The Center could be a place for small groups such as Hernando LGBTQ and Jews for Jesus to hold regular meetings in comfort and safety.
We have several programs directed toward providing jobs for the homeless. A center would give us the space to put these people to work and get them out of the woods.
The grounds around the Center, alive with native flowers and trees to attract indigenous insects and birds, would create a natural oasis in an area of environmental decline. There is even talk of starting a community garden where people earn free fruit and vegetables through the sweat equity of weeding.
The commonality behind all of these ideas is that they fill an existing—and largely unfilled—need in this area, and they are universally undercapitalized. The Nature Coast Community Services Foundation, through its support of these and similar programs, seeks to improve the community by providing support to the people and organizations that are working on behalf of all who live here. top->
Being homeless is not like being on a camping trip…even a miserable one. Weekend campers know they can go home Sunday evening, have a shower, a hot meal, and go to sleep in a comfy bed. Homeless people know only that the rain will let up eventually, long after everything they own is soaked and ruined.
The homeless know there will be no fire that night and no hot meal. And when it is time for bed, even the bedding is drenched. They know hungry mosquitoes will swarm in squadrons when the sun goes down which is also when Brown Recluse Spiders, poisonous snakes, and Bull Ants emerge from their burrows, and even a single bite can land one in the hospital or the morgue.
The next day the sky clears, but that means temperatures spike and the humidity is so high it is hard to breathe. But it is perfect for the deadly black mold which can make a tent and its damp contents dangerous to one's health in a matter of hours.
All the food is ruined, but it really doesn't matter because the campfire wood is wet, so there is no way to cook anything anyway. The food bank is closed, so everyone hunkers down to a long, hungry day ahead.
People with jobs do their best to look presentable, and one by one leave the encampment by foot or bicycle, heading to work.
The people with no job prospects have it worse. First, they spread wet blankets and clothing on bushes to aid their drying. Beyond that one task, there is nothing to do. Some walk aimlessly around the neighborhood looking for the odd job that pays cash. Some go to the library where it is dry and they surf the internet. More than a few go to the gas station to buy a sweet icy drink with their last damp dollar and then they search for a place they haven't been "trespassed" from where they can charge their government-issue cell phones.
As the day wears on, they return to their camp. A few take naps, others nurse the toothache that has begun to throb or the mysterious bite that is starting to fester. There is no dental care available, except for extraction, so they wait and hope for the best. The hospital emergency room may help with the bite, but they may also turn away a homeless person; it could go either way, and could be embarrassing, so they delay treatment. By dinner time everyone is back at the camp, waiting for the people with jobs to bring home fast food to share with the others.
The evening is hot and muggy. In the near distance a thunderstorm booms; everyone hopes it will stay away. Soon people retreat to their tents hoping to find relief from the swarming mosquitos. Although they are exhausted, bored, and depressed, it is too hot to sleep. The bedding is still damp anyway, presaging another uncomfortable night. The interminable daily cycle starts anew. top->
(toiletries, toothbrushes and toothpaste, tampons, razors, shampoo, soap, antibiotic cream, anti-itch creams, anti-diarrheal products, bandages, insect repellants, hairbrushes and combs, hair ties, toilet paper, etc), clothing, tents, bedding, and medical treatment for the many homeless men, women, and children living in our area including the 16% of our public school students living in cars, sheds, or abandoned huts in the woods as well as hundreds of adults (including PTSD disabled veterans approved for VA-assisted housing) living in abject poverty in the woods for lack of low-income housing.
With our partners, People Helping People and Challenger Irrigation, we provide two hot meals a week plus bags of groceries. As many of the people we serve do not have access to food stamps, this food is critical to their physical and mental well-being.
Water is a life-or-death need for everyone, but many of the local sources of water previously available to the homeless have been shut off to discourage their presence. Hence, the water we provide is critical to their well-being and can be lifesaving. (Thank you, Unitarian Universalist Church in the Pines of Weeki Wachee)
Often the only "family" they have left. We believe when we care for their pet, we are caring for the human being as well. Hence, with our partners' help, we provide dog and cat food on a weekly basis, (thank you, Pet Supermarket for donating the food), flea and tick prevention treatment on a monthly basis, and spaying/neutering services (thanks to Compassion Spay and Neuter of Pasco County and PetLuv of Brooksville) as well. After all, these pets often provide the homeless person's only source of love, companionship and protection.
So they can qualify for a social security card which is required before getting a job. We also offer counselling; financial literacy training; transportation to and from doctors' appointments, job interviews, as well as food stamp/child support/and social security offices; and job training (thank you, CareerSource) enabling them to rejoin society.
We have, in the first six months of 2019, gotten eight individuals (one less than a month old, one with severe mental illnesses, and one travelling with a beloved dog) who were stranded in our area, back to their home towns and preexisting family support. We thank our partner, the St. Vincent DePaul Society, for their generous assistance in this effort.
By providing each homeless person with an adult mentor who provides coaching, advice, encouragement, and practical assistance in navigating the difficult path back to self-sufficiency.
Each week we bring the apothecary which is filled with over-the-counter medicines and supplies to make their lives easier. We also drive the homeless to medical appointments and to hospitals in case of medical emergencies, as well as coordinate vaccinations to combat hepatitis with the local Hernando County Health Department. We coordinate with the High Point Lions Club to get prescription glasses for each homeless individual needing vision correction, with Pasco Hernando State College for basic preventive dental work (x-rays and cleaning), and with the Crescent Clinic for basic medical care, psychiatric treatment, and dental extractions.
So homeless people can get themselves to their own appointments without relying on our volunteer drivers, and to increase their independence. To this end, we distribute public service announcements asking our service area to donate unwanted bicycles which we then turn over to our partner, the Grace Presbyterian Bicycle Ministry, to rehab. Once the donated bicycles are road-worthy, we distribute them as needed to the homeless population. top->
Many people mistakenly believe homeless people choose to live that lifestyle.
The simple truth is that most of the homeless are simply people who are down on their luck. They did not choose this lifestyle; it found them. Our constituents are as young as 20 and old as 60. Most are in their 30's. They grew up in this area and could be your neighbor's child—or your own. About half dropped out before graduating high school.
About a third of the women are escaping an abusive relationship; even more people fell into homelessness after a serious auto accident after which they lost their health, their job, then their home. Overwhelming medical bills introduced even more people to homelessness. Several people lost their homes to fire and could not recover.
Several of the homeless work full time at minimum wage jobs in the $8/hour range, yet the current minimum "survival level" income is $10.50/hour for a full-time worker. They may be working, but they do not make enough to escape homelessness.
No one chooses to be homeless: exhausted, hot, hungry and afraid.
Many people mistakenly believe all homeless people are crazy. In a word, No!
The US government says that 20% of the homeless suffer from mental illnesses including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. By comparison, the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 18.5% of the US population has a mental illness — a small statistical difference between "normal" people and the homeless population.
As an aside, if you lived in a fetid infection-ridden swamp with poisonous snakes and spiders as your neighbors, had no access to safe water, were dive bombed by a Luftwaffe of hungry mosquitos all night and by the hostile looks of judgmental neighbors by day, and you were OK with living like that, then maybe you would be crazy.
And still the misconceptions keep coming.
Many people believe homeless people are all drug addicts or alcoholics.
Nationally, only 16% are chronically homeless because of drug or alcohol dependency., but nights can be particularly terrifying, and drugs help. And having a protective dog doesn't hurt, either.
Most of the homeless we work with enjoy a little marijuana from time to time, but it is expensive, and they often don't have money. Cigarettes are ubiquitous, and everyone smokes. When they have the money, they buy cheap cigarettes; when they don't, they scrounge butts off the pavement. Several people we serve drown their sorrows in beer, but even a beer habit is often prohibitively expensive for everyday use. top->
Pets are a lifeline for the homeless. Often estranged from their families, about half the homeless population has a pet because pets provide unconditional love, companionship, and protection. Pets also give them a reason to live, a reason to get up in the morning. Pets listen without judgement and snuggle without asking. They teach caring and responsibility, and are comfort animals in every sense. top->
Like most charities, NCCSF is universally undercapitalized. Hence we rely on our partners to help us help the homeless. Among those partners are People Helping People, the High Point Lions Club, the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Pines in Weeki Wachee FL, Pet Supermarket, PetLuv of Brooksville FL, Compassion Spay and Neuter of Pasco County, CareerSource, the St. Vincent DePaul Society, The Hernando County Health Department, Crescent Clinic, and Challenger Irrigation.
Without their help, our work would be much more difficult and we thank them most sincerely for