While experts have warned Pensacola and Escambia Counties that we are approaching the edge of a cliff when it comes to the mounting problems of poverty and homelessness, it is worth taking a look at a program in Santa Rosa County that has been running in recent years Has achieved remarkable success over the course of three consecutive years.

Last week, PNJ’s Emma Kennedy reported on a Santa Rosa School District program called Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, which was launched in 2017 to help tackle the homelessness of some of the county’s students.

In short, the program offers vouchers to families affected by homelessness who have incomes less than 60% of the median income. Families must cover 30% of their rent, but the program funds the remaining 70% and makes students eligible for casework, tutoring, and additional assistance.

In other words, it’s more than just a housing program. It’s a holistic approach that is agile enough to take into account housing, hunger, health, personalized tutoring, and a host of other factors that will help these students thrive in the classroom. And it worked.

Success:Santa Rosa Student Assistance Program, recreated by five other Florida counties

Solution:Pensacola Could Spend $ 3 Million In COVID Aid To Help Fight Homelessness

What now?:According to the consultant, Pensacola is on the verge of a “crisis” with homelessness

The program has helped 41 families over the past three years and has since been repeated in four other Florida counties based on the results in Santa Rosa. The school district says approximately 95% of the program’s students at risk will have successfully advanced to the next grade by the end of the year.

And while this is a small, focused program, the results are evidence of what countless studies and homelessness experts believe is needed to address the bigger problems in Escambia County – a holistic, comprehensive approach to the problem.

This is what the nationally renowned homelessness counselor Robert Marbut recently recommended for officials in Pensacola and Escambia Counties.

“You are on the brink of crisis and ready to go over the hill,” said Marbut. “I mean, you’re at 50 mph now, aiming for the cliff.”

Marbut’s report recommended a holistic service center planned near downtown Pensacola, as well as commitments from district officials and city council members to provide a uniform level of funding to solve the problems.

Local politicians have a long, bad habit of openly ignoring the advice of professionals and experts who are called upon to solve recurring problems. But this time around, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson appears to be taking Marbut’s advice seriously and wants to allocate $ 3 million of the city’s COVID aid to help implement the recommendations.

Robinson deserves credit for doing what so many other local elected officials have failed to do. Since the mayor did not run for re-election, he could easily shake off any real action and transfer the growing problems to a future administration.

As the Santa Rosa school program demonstrated, real progress is possible, but it is difficult and incremental, and it takes financial and philosophical buy-in from year to year to build a track record. We hope that other officials in our ward will learn from the example of the Santa Rosa School District and follow the example of Mayor Robinson.

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