Lighthouse Refuge house to help homeless or abused women

OKEECHOBEE — A property that was declared surplus by the county may be transferred to a program to help women who are homeless or who have been abused.

The property had been part of an affordable housing grant program, and had to be repossessed by the county.

On Oct. 8, 2015, the Board of County Commissioners approved the sale of surplus residential property located at 17630 N.W. 33rd Terrace by the sealed bid process.

County Attorney John Cassels said the county held the mortgage on the house. He said the program participant died. The property has been vacant for about a year.

“Why wouldn’t we want to keep it in the program?” asked Chairman Irby.

“Why don’t we put another low income family in that house?”

County administrator Robbie Chartier said when the property became surplus, she brought it to the board, and the board wanted to sell it.

“There were no bidders,” she said.

On Oct. 14, 2015 staff advertised said surplus property in the newspaper and on the county website. The Invitation to Bid had a minimum acceptable bid requirement of $78,951, which is the estimated property value as listed on the County Property Appraisers website.

The property is 1.290 acres in size with a two-bedroom, two-bath design totaling 1,548 square feet.

The deadline for bids was 3 p.m. Dec. 11, 2015. As of that deadline date, no bids were received.

Mrs. Chartier said the home is a long distance from town, and that could be the reason there was no interest from bidders.

“One of the reasons we may not have received any bids was that we had a minimum bid,” suggested Chairman Irby.

On Feb. 12, 2016, staff received a request from Donna Dean of Lighthouse Refuge, Inc., to obtain ownership of the residential property to be used as a safe place for women who are homeless and/or have been verbally or physically abused due to domestic violence.

Lighthouse Refuge offers programs to counsel women with emotional issues as well as educational skills programs related to computer skills, homemaking skills, college courses, job training and money management. Staff met with Mrs. Dean and her staff to inspect the property to ensure it would meet the needs of Lighthouse Refuge.

“It’s just a two-bedroom home,” said Commissioner Margaret Helton. “How would you use it?”

Larry Dean of Lighthouse Refuge said he and his wife started the program from their own home.

“We had our own house in Northlake Country Estates,” Mr. Dean explained.

“We had a three-bedroom house. We used the spare bedroom for women who had been abused.”

He said his wife volunteered at Martha’s House and met some of the women who needed additional help.

“Some of them benefited greatly from that.

We’ve had different ones go to college,” he said.

“Martha’s House is great, we just want to be an extension of that,” Mr. Dean continued.

“Martha’s House is short term. We would offer help from 3 months to a year.”

He said they now live in an area that is restricted to seniors so they cannot provide the program in their home.

He said one of their board members lives one street over from the N.W. 33rd program and this person will monitor the house when someone is there.

“We can put staff in the house in 8-hour shifts when that is needed,” he said.
He said they don’t plan to have staff live in the house.

“That way there could be women in each bedroom,” he explained.

Commissioners agreed to have the county attorney prepare an agreement with Lighthouse Refuge to take possession of the property.

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