CRESTVIEW — Homelessness in North Okaloosa County is a problem, but what is the solution? Crestview City Councilman J.B. Whitten held a town hall meeting on the issue Thursday night at Azteca Restaurant in hopes of working toward one.
Forty attendees included Mayor David Cadle; Ann Sprague, the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless president; and Teresa Gaillard, the city’s growth management and administrative services director.
“My goal is to have an open dialogue between me, a city councilman and those in the community who have concerns about our needy and homeless people here in Crestview,” Whitten said. “I see my role in leading this discussion as being educated, knowing available resources, spreading the word and encouraging and promoting solutions.”
Whitten said he would like to see a coalition of churches and non-profits pool their resources and plan a consolidated approach to the homelessness problem.
Sprague explained what Helping Hands of Crestview is doing to help the homeless.
“Research has shown that the best way to help the homeless is to house them individually or as a family,” she said. “We would like for the community to help raise funds to purchase an acre of land to build efficiency apartments for the homeless.
“We have been working since April with over 80 homeless individuals and families here in Crestview. We feel like we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg. We know where the resources are and we do what we can to find and offer services to the homeless.”
Helping Hands can provide IDs and take people to doctor’s appointments. Volunteers also work with military veterans to connect them to services.
“We have many Iraq and Afghanistan vets in this area who do not have services,” Sprague said.
Also speaking at the town hall meeting was Sarah Yelverton, the executive director of the Homelessness and Housing Alliance in Fort Walton Beach. This organization is the primary continuum of care for Okaloosa and Walton counties. She spoke about applying for state grants to provide housing for the homeless. A state pilot grant provides $750,000 in a forgivable loan for housing for the homeless, for which Okaloosa and Walton counties have applied.
Whitten said he felt the town hall discussion went well.
“What I brought away from the meeting was that there was an agreement that a coalition of churches and non-profits might be able to tackle the homelessness situation in a better fashion that we are currently doing,” he said.
“Those in attendance expressed a desire that some type of plan be presented by city leadership. I agreed to request a city council workshop in the near future in pursuit of that goal.”