BRADENTON, Fla. — A Sarasota non-profit is expanding its housing program into Manatee County to help those dealing with homelessness.
Second Heart Homes just secured its seventh home, this time in Bradenton. The home is a four-bedroom house with a shared living room and kitchen to help those struggling with homelessness and addiction have a place to start putting their lives back in order.
"So this is the new house," Tony McFadden, a nursing student at USF who was formerly homeless, said. "This is the living room, we have set up and things are a little bit under construction."
McFadden who is 35 years old has been in recovery from a decade of marijuana and alcohol addiction.
He said he picked up substance abuse when he was in high school and it led him down the wrong path. He would stay with friends or family when he didn't have a place to sleep but later ruined those relationships.
"I started to experience mental health issues and then slide to homelessness and not finding, what's the word, gainful employment," McFadden said.
Now with the help of Second Heart Homes, which is assisting a total of 43 men and women to stay off the streets, McFadden not only has a job, and a roof over his head, but he has also been sober for nearly a year.
A $300,000 grant from the Barancik Foundation helped purchase the home which would house only men while the organization works on ways to assist women in the county.
"I never had the opportunity to just do the dishes and make my bed and actually have a place to sit down and read a book," McFadden said. "It made me feel very excited to know that I am bettering myself."
"I think through COVID we're about to experience a significant increase in homelessness like we've never seen before," Founder of Second Heart Homes Megan Howell said.
Howell said there's a huge need for affordable and mental health housing in the area.
According to statistics from the group's research, homelessness in Manatee County is up 25% with around 65% of those being homeless for the first time.
"What we provide is so much more than a house," Howell said. "It's a stable environment where we can focus on what the individual needs to live a productive and purposeful happy and safe life."
Full-time case managers help the clients navigate daily challenges, accomplish academic or career goals, and work towards self-sufficiency.
"Realizing that I have the opportunity now to just sit down and have a little space to myself, to be with God, and to just experience safety has changed how I look at things a lot and makes me more excited to achieve my goals," McFadden said.
Last year, the group helped 12 women who struggled with homelessness and mental health challenges move into a home in Sarasota.
The organization has plans to acquire more homes in different parts of the community to lend a helping hand where it's needed the most.
In the meantime, the Manatee County Government is in negotiations with the design team, HDR, to convert the old jail into a shelter for homeless veterans. A county spokesperson said the company has requested access to existing plans and specifications for the building to assist with their preparation of a design proposal which would be presented to the county commissioners.