In March 2021, Carlinys Rodriguez and her two sons, ages 7 and 8, were kicked out of their home by a family member and she thought they had nowhere to go. But she found her way to the Salvation Army’s George W. Jenkins Community of Hope neighborhood off Kathleen Road, a 49-acre, family-friendly neighborhood that helps struggling families overcome their circumstances and rebuild their lives.
“Carlinys was facing barriers, such as hearing impairment, single parenthood, and a lack of a support system,” said Captain Jeremy M. Mockabee, commanding officer of The Salvation Army West Polk County. “But she was determined to overcome those obstacles. Through her case management, Carlinys gained vocational rehabilitation, proper medical care, and information on cochlear implants.”
In addition, her two sons received reliable dental, medical, and eye exams.
At first, the family lived in the Publix Charities Family Residence temporary shelter on the property, but applied for the transitional housing program, Pathway of Hope, and was accepted. They lived in one of the triplex units in the Joe and Alberta Blanton Family Village. As she stabilized her family’s life, Rodriguez found a job, got her driver’s license and applied for permanent housing. By September, she and her sons were in their own apartment.
“Carlinys is a beautiful example of what can happen when a motivated person and the Salvation Army join forces,” Mockabee said.
Rodriguez’s success story is one Salvation Army officials hope to replicate repeatedly. The non-profit announced this week that it is doubling the amount of temporary shelter and extended-stay homes in its George W. Jenkins Community of Hope neighborhood for families off Kathleen Road in north Lakeland, with a $19.5 million expansion.
“Phase 2 includes 20 additional family shelter units, four additional triplexes, 13 extended-stay Hope Homes (three-bedroom, standalone houses), a community center, and an administration facility,” said Mockabee. “The George W. Jenkins Community of Hope will help five times more families achieve self-sufficiency — breaking the cycle for future generations. This will equate to 25 families successfully graduating from the Family Living Program each year, never returning to homelessness.”
The community opened in 2015 and has served more than 2,000 people in the last seven years.
- Currently, the program at Community of Hope operates 20 family shelter units, where families can stay for up to 90 days, and eight fully-furnished triplex apartments. Residents can stay enrolled in that program for up to 15 months. An interview process is required for selection in the Family Living Program, and once selected, residents must comply with the rules of the program. It provides:
- Case management
- Youth programs
- After-school tutoring
- Day care
Families must have children under the age of 18 to gain access to the shelter and parents must be able to pass a drug test to gain access to the shelter.
Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz has been working for several years to ease Lakeland’s homeless issue, which has only worsened in recent years as rent rates have skyrocketed and people have been priced out of their homes.
“The expanding need to provide child-enriching services for families whose critical need is reestablishing stability is accomplished at Salvation Army’s Community of Hope,” Mutz said Wednesday. “This growing problem will be addressed by a doubling of their capacity. We are so grateful for the not-for-profits in our community, like Salvation Army, who strategically address these matters.”
In 2019, Mutz said about 3,700 children were homeless, which includes children who are living in motels or doubling up with extended family members. He said then that they might not be living on the street or at a homeless shelter, but they represent a wide variety of the home insecure.
That same year, the Homeless Coalition of Polk County reported that there were 563 people who were homeless in Polk County, 80 of whom are chronically without a stable place to live.
According to the Lotus Campaign, a nonprofit that works with the for-profit sector to increase availability of housing for people experiencing homelessness, there is a crisis of homeless families nationally.
“Not since the Great Depression (1929-1939) have so many families been homeless in the United States,” the Lotus Campaign website states.
Lotus Campaign officials say that in the 1980s families accounted for less than 1% of those experiencing homelessness. Today, almost 30% of America’s homeless are families and more than 34,000 of the homeless in the U.S. — about 6% — are unaccompanied youth under the age of 25. Half of them are unsheltered – living on the street.
The Salvation Army’s Community of Hope’s planned community center will include a gymnasium, administrative offices, community classrooms, and a worship center. There is already an accredited Department of Children and Families-run day care and after-school care on the property, which operates from 5:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. and is free for clients.
“We just to make sure we take any barrier or handicap our clients might be experiencing out of the way so they can focus on savings and getting to where they need to be,” Mocabee said.
The Salvation Army calls itself “an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church.” It was established in London in 1865 and has been supporting those in need for more than 130 years in the United States. Nearly 30 million Americans receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through a broad array of social services that range from providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children. The Christian ministry says it spends 82 cents of every dollar it spends to support those services in 5,000 communities nationwide.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.