Justice Department grant to help Pulse victims

BY RENE STUTZMAN
ORLANDO SENTINEL/TNS

ORLANDO – The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday announced an $8.5 million anti-terrorism grant to help people affected by the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Daughter Tatiana Harris hugs a younger family member during the funeral for her mother and Pulse shooting victim Brenda Lee Marquez McCool at First United Methodist Church in Orlando on June 20, 2016.
(JOE BURBANK/
ORLANDO SENTINEL/TNS)

The money will provide mental health counseling to victims, witnesses and first responders and will help reimburse the costs of the United Assistance Center, the one-stop help center set up at Camping World Stadium immediately after the shooting. It is still in business but has since been moved.

The grant was from the DOJ’s Anti-terrorism Emergency Assistance Program and crime victims office.

It was awarded to the Office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, which had applied for it based on requests from Central Florida agencies.

Money for city
The money is intended to pay for 27 months of services, according to the grant application. A good portion of it has already been spent.

The biggest single recipient — $1.5 million — appears to be the city of Orlando. Among other things, that money would reimburse the city for the cost of operating the assistance center.

The second-biggest recipient appears to be Orange County, which would receive more than $1 million, much of it to provide mental health services for first responders. That would fall under a $700,000 contract with the University of Central Florida (UCF).

Plenty of counseling
UCF psychologists and counselors are expected to treat 200 law enforcement officers, firefighters and dispatchers in 3,000 group therapy sessions. They also are expected to hold nearly 300 counseling sessions for victims, according to the grant application.

Another major recipient appears to be Two Spirit Health Services, which is slated to receive more than $800,000 for psychological and other victim services.

In the three weeks immediately after the massacre, Two Spirit coordinated the work of 650 volunteer mental health counselors who logged about 1,000 appointments or contacts, said its president, Dr. David Baker-Hargrove.

“We are Central Florida’s GLBT health center,” he said Monday. “This is really good news. We all kind of anticipated that the federal government would at some point be able to step in and provide some long-term relief.”

Grant for charities
The assistance center, formerly at the stadium, is being run by United Way of Central Florida, under contract with the city.

The grant also will reimburse some local charities, including the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, for the aid they have already rendered.

Gunman Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub south of downtown Orlando, about 2 a.m. on June 12, killing 49 people and injuring at least 68 others.

The city quickly helped organized the nonprofit OneOrlando Fund to handle the millions of dollars being donated to help the victims.

That fund has so far doled out $29.5 million and is on the verge of distributing another $1.3 million before shutting down at the end of the month.

The Contigo Fund, another charity set up after the tragedy, recently announced the distribution of $450,000 to organizations that work for equality and racial justice in the Hispanic, Muslim and black communities.

Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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