Corks for a Cause: Opportunity Place fighting homelessness in our community
Editor’s Note: Each month the Destin Log will share a story from one of the charity partners benefiting from the support of Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation.
The state of Florida has a homeless population of more than 30,000, making it the third largest homeless populated state in America, right after New York. And more than 80 percent of these individuals live unsheltered.
Living in an area surrounded by emerald green water, white sand beaches, and beautiful vacation homes, it is often assumed that homelessness is not an issue along the Emerald Coast. However, more than 1,600 homeless persons live in Walton and Okaloosa Counties. Even more alarming is the number of children in this situation. More than 44 percent of the homeless in Okaloosa County are under the age of 18.
The Okaloosa Walton Homeless Continuum of Care/ Opportunity Inc. is dedicated to creating an opportunity to end homelessness. With a mission to eliminate homelessness through self-sufficiency, they have set up programs and shelters serving all of Okaloosa and Walton Counties, including emergency shelters for women and families, veterans’ employment programs, resource and referral offices and Opportunity Place.
Opportunity Place opened in 2009 and provides emergency shelter for families with children and single women. Opportunity Inc. has been a Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF) partner since 2012, and has received $130,000 from DCWAF in the last two years. These funds have helped support the Opportunity Place Program and the needs of the children who stay there. Most recently, DCWAF funds were used to hire a Children’s Service Coordinator and a Volunteer Coordinator, allowing Opportunity Place to serve more than 40 children since January.
“The funding from DCWAF has allowed us to expand the space capacity at the facility, increase the amount of residents we can house, maintain staff and funding for direct assistance to address the specific needs of children facing homelessness,” said Opportunity Inc. Executive Director Sarah Yelverton. “This is the first year we have been able to offer a summer program to children of all ages at Opportunity Place. It has made a huge difference in the parents’ ability to obtain and maintain employment during the summer and has also provided the children a safe, fun learning environment, allowing them to enjoy their summer break.”
Opportunity Place is a fully conceived “shelter plus” program, offering single women and families access to shelter, food and the resources needed to heal, grow and move forward. With 12 family units available, each family has privacy and time together. Four common areas provide an opportunity for the children to play together and adults to combine their resources and support one another. The facility includes a playground, a food pantry, and space for counseling sessions, and tutoring.
“Homelessness impacts every component of a child’s life. I have seen four year olds that don’t know the color brown and six year olds that don’t know their ABC’s. The environment they are raised in isn’t conducive to academics, so they fall behind in school and label themselves as slow learners or worse,” says Yelverton. “Homelessness is not just a lack of material objects or even a lack of a place to sleep. It is traumatic for the entire family and these children have so many more barriers to address than other kids. We are just trying to get these children to the same starting line as everyone else.”