MILTON — Last year, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation approved funding for a Small Counties Demonstration Project to house homeless families with children living in the Santa Rosa School District.

At the Thursday school board meeting, Karen Barber, director of federal programs for the school district, presented the board with information on the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program. 

According to the presentation, the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless learned of the program and facilitated a meeting between the Housing Finance Agency, the Santa Rosa School District and Milton Housing Authority. The organizations created a pilot program, which is now ready to begin.

The program provides housing for 20 to 25 families experiencing homelessness for 12 months.

With this program, students’ academic success will improve and family engagement in schools will increase; families’ income will increase; and families will remain stably housed after the first year, according to Barber.

"I applaud the fact that our community is wrapping around our children and making sure their needs are taken care of," Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said. "[Those children] in the classroom will be better off because of that."

Community organizations that have partnered with the school district for this project are the corporation, the coalition, the housing authority, Family Promise, the Dawn Church, the Hope Church, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, University of West Florida and others.

The Dawn Church has collected household goods and furniture for the families in anticipation for the grant, according to Barber.

Students eligible for McKinney-Vento Services and enrolled in a Santa Rosa school also are eligible for the program. Students eligible for these services are youths who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, including children and youths sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; or living in emergency or transitional shelters, or who are abandoned in hospitals.

To participate in the program, families must meet with staff and begin the application process, complete the Family Sustainability Plan, meet with the coalition to determine financial eligibility, agree to follow an attendance policy, participate in case management, support their child’s school success, provide all financial documents and participate in orientation with the housing authority, be responsible for utilities and a minimum of $50 per month for rent (depending on income), set goals, and meet with Family Promise case manager twice a month for the first month and then monthly for 11 months.