By Rachel Christian
Despite continued vocal bi-partisan support from residents and nonprofit leaders, a one-stop homeless center failed to gain favor with a majority of Kissimmee leaders Tuesday night.
Osceola County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry went before the City Commission seeking verbal support for a centralized resource center aimed at aiding and supporting homeless and working poor residents.
City Commission chambers were filled with constituents who presented over an
hour of public comment championing the idea of such a facility.
The proposed center would provide services often associated with traditional homeless shelters, such as two hot meals a day and showers. But Choudhry claims the facility would take a “hand up, not a hand out” approach by connecting those in need with existing non-profits that can assist with things like food, rent and child care.
“The center will provide the open door we currently do not have in our county,” Choudhry said. “We need a place we can count on being open to provide the bare necessities of life.”
Leaders from the Rock Church off U.S. Highway 192 already publicly pledged a facility on their property equipped with a kitchen and bathrooms in March to serve as a venue for the crisis center pilot program.
Choudhry and her backers stressed that creating a central location would streamline services nonprofit groups provide and cut down on “double dipping” by those seeking resources.
She first proposed a one-stop center in August 2017, but the concept failed to garner support from any fellow county commissioners.
Once the $1 million funding request was shot down, Choudhry began building a base of avid supporters that included religious and nonprofit leaders, state representatives, advocates and constituents who have met regularly to brainstorm conceptual ideas for the one-stop center.
After months of planning, Choudhry said she intends to bring her idea back to the county next month for a final vote. She chose to mobilize her group this week to ask city commissioners to lend their voices in support of the center.
But on Tuesday, some city leaders – including Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez – were reluctant to endorse the concept.
Alvarez insisted that local government is already providing enough resources to those in need through existing programs and initiatives.
“This has been a priority for us and this is what we have been working on every single day,” he said. “For over two decades, the city has funded programs and services that meet the needs of our most venerable residents.”
Commissioner Angela Eddy favored working more closely with the Community Hope Center, a nonprofit that already provides an array of services to working poor families in Osceola County.
Choudhry countered that the Community Hope Center, though a prime resource for those seeking assistance, isn’t equipped to address the needs of the homeless by providing beds or a 24-hour facility.
The crisis center was originally slated as a discussion item on the June 19 agenda, but Commissioner Wanda Rentes pushed to make it a formal motion of support by the board.
“Let’s just agree and let Peggy go back to her commission and tell them ‘The city of Kissimmee is behind us to try this effort,’” Rentes said. “We have tried for many years using different avenues; this is one that isn’t even costing us a penny, all we’re saying is let’s give her the word that the city is behind her.”
Alvarez agreed to make a motion, but not before reiterating opposition.
“I made it very clear that as soon as the County Commission jumps on board with this project…this commission would do as it’s always done and support its County Commission,” he said. “We’re not here to step on the County Commission’s direction – we’re here to support them.”
When the motion was made, only Rentes and Commissioner Olga Gonzalez voted in favor of it. The impromptu motion failed 3-2.
In a Facebook post made after the meeting, Choudhry pledged to “continue the fight” for the one-stop center and said she still plans to bring it before the county for a deciding vote next month.