SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Second Heart Homes has expanded its supportive-housing program to serve chronically homeless women with mental health issues.
The organization, which currently houses and serves 24 formerly homeless men impacted by mental health issues, recently purchased two homes and began housing its first two female residents early this month.
The expansion was supported by a $125,000 grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and other donations. This funding would enable Second Heart Homes house and assist 12 single women by taking them off the streets and directing them to better lives.
"I'm 72 years old and I have had to sleep on the floor, on a mat and pay $12 for that privilege," said Denise Staggs, a newly housed neighbor.
Staggs, a UC Berkley graduate of Psychology and a recovered addict, became homeless when she was evicted 10 days after her husband died.
She said she spent the next two and a half years couch-surfing at the homes of friends or paying $12 a night at the Salvation Army.
Many other women end up homeless due to abuse, domestic violence, untreated trauma and mental health issues. Coupled with that, when forced to live on the streets due to their circumstances, they become vulnerable and are in a state of constant fear for their physical safety.
"I have been assaulted, I've been robbed," Staggs said. "One of the downtown officers last year saved me from being raped. And I had another homeless man who knew my husband chase somebody down with a bucket and finally hit him in the head because he had taken my purse."
Now Staggs can rest her head as she's one of the first two women getting help with housing and mental health support from Second Heart Homes.
She was able to bring a friend she made during her time of homelessness to join her as a roommate. The two women had supported each other by banding together, sharing funds to reserve shelter space and helping each other with food and personal hygiene items.
"While our supportive housing program for men has been very successful, we have learned that homeless women have more complex challenges and that there aren't enough supportive housing services in Sarasota to meet their needs," Megan Howell, founder and executive director of Second Heart Homes, said in a statement.
"In comparison to homeless men, homeless women have higher rates of mental illness, chronic health issues, trauma, addiction and abuse," Howell said. "For most, sexual abuse or domestic violence is the root cause of their homelessness, yet many return their abusers when they can't find long-term housing."
"Anyone coming into a program, they must have a commitment to address their mental and physical health and achieve their goals," Howell told 10 Tampa Bay on Wednesday. "We want to set them up to be self-sufficient as possible through our integrated services and collaborative approaches with the community and its services."
Second Heart Homes Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Sarasota that helps homeless adults with mental illness secure housing and become self-sufficient, according to a release. The organization helps individuals find stability, rebuild their lives, and achieve self-sufficiency. They provide homes, daily supportive services, connections to care and skill-building workshops tailored to clients' individual needs.
"We applaud Second Heart Home for using the 'housing first' model which is effective in getting people back on track," President/CEO of Barancik Foundation Teri A Hansen said. "They already have had a positive impact as our community struggles with a housing crisis, so we hope others will help with this important work."
Staggs has already begun rebuilding her life and has a glow about her.
"I'm a winner, I came to win and I'm going to I have a job and I actually had a job before I moved in," she said.
According to recent reports from the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, more than 200 women in the community are currently homeless.