After 30 years, Arbor House is closing
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.
After 30 years, a Gainesville shelter for homeless pregnant women and single mothers and their children is closing because of financial struggles.
The Arbor House has faced funding difficulties since 2010, when it lost two grants that combined for almost one-quarter of its approximately $250,000 annual budget.
After word spread of the money woes in late 2011, a surge of donations staved off closure.
In March 2012, Catholic Charities took over operations through an agreement with the Arbor House board. This week, Catholic Charities announced that it will not renew that agreement when it expires in March because of a lack of public and private sector funding to keep the shelter going.
“Between ourselves and the Arbor House board, we could not come up with a sustainable stream of donations to keep this thing going in the long term,” said John Barli, regional director of Catholic Charities.
Barli said two pregnant women and three mothers with small children currently live at the shelter. Arbor House will not close until each of them has a place to live.
“We’re talking about placing them with family or friends or placing them in a shelter similar to Arbor House” in a different community, Barli said.
Theresa Lowe, the director of the Gainesville/Alachua County Office on Homelessness, said Arbor House was a unique service provider because it provided long-term housing to transition the mothers and their children into permanent housing.
“It was very much a niche service but a needed one,” Lowe said.
Audrie Harris, the chair of the Arbor House board, said residents could live at the home for 12 to 24 months. They received life skills and parenting classes, continued their education or worked.
“It was trying to break the cycle of poverty by getting them educated and getting them working,” Harris said. “So it was more of a long-term program ... Our thinking was if you just do temporary housing, you’re not doing anything long term to break the cycle of poverty.”
Miriam Elliott, the chair of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry and a former Arbor House employee, said that, because of the shortage of maternity homes in this region of Florida and the breadth of services offered at Arbor House, the shelter would often receive inquiries about housing from beyond Alachua County.
“It’s distressing to me that it’s come to this and I’d hate to lose that resource,” she said.
It remains to be seen what social service providers might fill at least some of the void left by the Arbor House. The St. Francis House does house pregnant women and single mothers at its shelter, Executive Director Kent Vann said.
Vann said that, while the shelter will continue to provide short-term housing to single men and women, St. Francis House is increasing its services for families. The shelter is developing dedicated safe spaces for children to read or play and focusing more on case management to transition families into permanent housing.
Harris said the Arbor House may also look to see if another charity wants to locate in its buildings, which are on the 2600 block of Northwest Sixth Street.