To combat the high levels of homelessness in the Central Florida area, Mayor Teresa Jacobs and officials from Florida Hospital and Ability Housing announced Wednesday morning that they would be transforming the Wayne Densch Center for the Homeless from transitional housing into permanent housing for the homeless.

Wayne Densch Charities is donating the property to Florida Hospital, which is partnering with Ability Housing to remodel the apartments in the area and make them into permanent housing for the homeless. Orange County will contribute $2 million to the project, which will allow Ability Housing the ability to renovate the homes.

The change is one that reflects the current wisdom for addressing homelessness.

Where before, the focus was on transitional housing, the current direction from the Obama Administration is to move toward more permanent housing situations that will help the homeless on a larger scale, rather than simply releasing them back into the world after a transitional period.

Jacobs said the county strives to broaden the options available for homeless families.

“To serve those most vulnerable citizens, in the past year we’ve intensified our efforts to expand affordable housing projects, and also to support the housing first approach,” she said. “Permanent supportive housing for homeless families is vitally necessary in our community, since it provides resources for families who have particularly difficult challenges, including mental illness, addiction or physical disability.”

Wayne Densch Charities Board Chair John Williams noted the progression in the way homelessness has been treated over the years.

“When we started in 1998, transitional housing was the new model,” he said. “The model before that, and this probably isn’t the right term, was warehousing – just put them somewhere for the night and they’re gone in the morning. Now we see that what has emerged is housing first strategies, addressing the housing needs rather than only their drug and alcohol addictions.”

Florida Hospital Patient Care Technician Yvette Tarver-Ricks said the change was special to her on a personal level.

“Sixteen years ago, I was at the center for drug free living,” she said. “With the help of those close to me, I turned my life around. I appreciate the life-changing opportunities given at Wayne Densch. Countless lives will be changed.”

According to Ability Housing Executive Director Shannon Nazworth, the residents currently living at the Wayne Densch Center for the Homeless will not see any rent increases or changes to their ways of life if they choose to stay – though some, she noted, have already expressed a desire to move out. She said Ability Housing will help those residents who want to move out.

She said they’ll close on the deal in late summer or early fall, and after that they’ll begin renovations.

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