Homelessness, Housing, Hope

When you think of Venice, Florida what comes to mind? Beaches, the arts, a historic downtown, beautiful parks, and history immediately fill our minds. What you may be surprised to read is that, in the last six months of 2023, the City of Venice Police Department received 204 contacts for assistance with individuals who are unhoused within city limits.  

At Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast), helping our neighbors overcome homelessness has been a focus over the past decade. In fact, Gulf Coast has made a $7.5 million investment in helping individuals find permanent housing and hope. “Philanthropy has aligned donors, nonprofits, and municipalities to create paths to housing, to prevent people cycling through our jail and hospitals. We are grateful for this partnership, built on years of successes, which is a win-win for the community and most importantly, the families assisted,” said Gulf Coast’s Director of Community Leadership Jennifer Johnston. 

In September 2023, Gulf Coast awarded a grant of $28,300 to Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness to launch a Venice Community Outreach Case Manager position. This is a collaboration between Gulf Coast, United Way of South Sarasota County, City of Venice, and Venice Police Department.  

Woman wearing red sweater with brown hair looks up from computer and desk, smiling.
Kasey Ledford, Venice Community Outreach Case Manager

Meet Kasey Ledford, the new Venice Community Outreach Case Manager. Ledford works at Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness and with the Venice Police Department. She is a behavioral health clinician specializing in substance use disorders. Ledford is learning from her experienced peers at the City and County of Sarasota and the City of North Port.  

Ledford is responsible for outreach and engagement with individuals experiencing homelessness, mental health, and/or substance abuse in partnership with the City of Venice Police Department, including persons experiencing these conditions due to the misuse of opioid products. The role includes providing support, resources, and advocacy for those who are most vulnerable in the community. Ledford partners with Sergeant Sean Hammett, community outreach officer with the Venice Police Department. Working closely with other service providers and community organizations, Ledford helps reduce the likelihood of encounters with law enforcement and improves individuals’ overall quality of life.  

We sat down with Ledford to learn more, asking her how Gulf Coast’s support of this position enables her to do the important work that she does? “Without the financial assistance, I don’t know if the pilot program would have taken off. I don’t think my position would have been possible without the help of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Having the contacts and Gulf Coast’s knowledge of organizations in Venice is a huge help to me, especially since I’m not from here,” said Ledford. 

Business card with Kasey Ledford's contact information.

We asked Ledford to share a story from her experiences on the job. “We had a woman who was living behind a gas station near Jacaranda Boulevard. Patrol officers had approached her a couple of times for safety. They gave her my contact information. She was homeless, living on the streets. She had just secured a full-time job the first day I met her. She did that all on her own. Through collaborating with county homeless outreach teams (who focus on the unhoused) and Community Assisted & Supported Living (CASL), we were able to get her housed through CASL’s North Port transitional housing. We also collaborated with United Way South Sarasota County and a local motel to get her several days in a motel room before she went to CASL while she was working full-time. She shared with me her appreciation for having people who cared about her, taking a chance on her, and not overlooking her. I felt so happy because of this. She feels that being housed will also help her stay sober. 

It’s so important to be preventative with street outreach and to show individuals who are homeless empathy. I believe if you can show that you care, that there are resources available, and that people can help, less individuals will need these services,” continued Ledford. 

Back of Kasey Ledford's business card

In closing, we asked Leford why it is vital to have her role in the City of Venice. She shared, “Police officers do so many things that they often don’t have the bandwidth to do the outreach part – making follow-up phone calls, talking to unhoused individuals, helping them through the process of getting housed, giving information about services, and having a civilian who is approachable. There’s a stigma with people who are unhoused. We are all a couple of bad decisions away from being homeless, especially in this economy. I hope in my heart that people will understand this. One goal I have for this position is to get that message across to everyone I can. A lot of the individuals I’ve met are just people who are working and don’t have enough money to live here.  Not everyone who is homeless is an addict. They became unhoused because they lost their job, or one woman got foreclosed on because she had cancer treatment and had to use her money for the treatment instead of housing. Luckily, we got her a lower-cost apartment,” concluded Ledford. 

Together, with the support of Gulf Coast, Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, and the City of Venice Police, heroes like Ledford will continue to thrive in her position and most importantly, help others who need and deserve their own housing. 

 


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