Fresh Start Tackles Homelessness at Sept. 22 Gala

By Alita Feek


On Friday, Sept. 22, Fresh Start for Children and Families is going to rock Hurlburt Field’s Soundside Club. With a little help from local band The Mulligans, and a lot of help from the community, Fresh Start has one goal—to make the Sixth Annual Friends of Fresh Start Gala the best ever.


This year’s gala has a football theme, and Fresh Start is inviting the public to “Help Tackle Family Homelessness!”


Fresh Start, located in Fort Walton Beach half a mile from Uptown Station, helps the homeless. But wait a second…that image that just popped into your head of the person sitting on a sidewalk? Scratch it. According to executive director Tracey Williams, “The folks that they’re picturing, the guy under the bridge with the beard makes up less than five percent of the actual homeless population. The real population of homeless are families—they are living out of their cars, are living with other families, and living in hotels.”


In other words, Okaloosa County’s homeless population looks a lot like your friends and neighbors.


Fresh Start’s entire raison d’être is about giving people the tools to create permanent change, and Williams explains that “initially when they get here, we try to get them all the resources we can whether that’s childcare vouchers, or helping get government assistance if need be. But the idea is to wean them off all those things.” To achieve that goal, clients who are accepted to Fresh Start live in onsite transitional housing for up to nine months, and during that time, they engage in a rigorous program tailored to their needs.


All clients are required to hold jobs, and saving 10 percent of all income is compulsory. After successfully graduating from transitional housing, residents are eligible to move into the “step-up housing” apartment complex across the street (also run by Fresh Start), where they may live up to a year.


Unique in that it receives zero government funding, Fresh Start is primarily funded by proceeds from Repeat Street, a thrift store that is staffed entirely by volunteers. Local individuals, businesses, and churches contribute as well, and Fresh Start also works with the United Way.


And then there is the annual gala. Thanks to strong community support and the fantastic entertainment provided by the Mulligans (“The Emerald Coast’s Premier Special Events Band,” who play the gala every year), Fresh Start needed a bigger location for 2017. That’s where Soundside comes in.


It will be an evening of rocking out to tunes from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and more. And you don’t even have to wear a suit—guests are encouraged to don football jerseys or their favorite team gear. Capped off with a silent auction, heavy football-themed hors d’oeuvres, and a cash bar, this year promises to be the best yet.


For more information, call 850-243-4548 or visit Tickets start at $40 and, due to the Hurlburt Field location, must be purchased in advance.

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