After 43 years as the top service provider in Polk County, Talbot House Ministries launched the county’s first Homeless Diversion Program, furthering the ministry’s impact. The program’s vision is to remove barriers to housing through one-time financial assistance. 

Ultimately, the hope is to provide solutions to simpler challenges of qualifying individuals facing homelessness. Challenges that would otherwise result in emergency shelter stays or the utilization of emergency services. 

Executive Director Maria Cruz defines Diversion as a “Housing First best practice that tackles one-time incidental homelessness episodes.” Diversion works in two ways:


  • Upfront: Redirecting individuals from shelters and emergency services by providing rapid housing options. 
  • Backend: Providing rapid exits from emergency shelters to clients who are also utilizing emergency services. 

Diversion offers assistance with bus fare, plane tickets, or gas cards to individuals needing to travel to loved ones in other cities or states for housing. The program also covers housing deposits or move-in costs for those who have found stable and affordable housing within the community. 

While many of us champion programs such as Diversion, few of us are aware of their saving grace. We’ve shared WHAT diversion is, let’s now take it a step further and share WHO this program impacts; this is Esther’s* story. 

When things are consistent we rest in the false pretense that they will remain so. We expect another day when a new day is not promised. We expect our quality of life to remain unchanged when in reality we are all one experience removed from a different life. 

A phone call, question, loss, or conversation can be the catalyst to a new journey or the precipitation of a downfall. For Esther, a diagnosis changed the trajectory of her life. 

While pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, Esther was diagnosed with pneumonia, stomach ulcers, diabetes, insomnia, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. The culmination of her diagnosis and the toll it took on her mental health triggered a cascade of circumstances that redirected her life plans.

Her inability to maintain work, relocating from San Diego to Nevada to Lakeland, misplaced trust in a romantic partner, and the Corona Virus Pandemic led her to Talbot House Ministries. 

Florida offered her a second chance, however, it did not come without obstacles. As she struggled to make ends meet as a Substitute teacher, Esther was connected with Talbot House Ministries’ Operations Manager Chris Clark, and sometime after became a program resident. 

Prior to coming to Talbot House, Esther applied for an apartment at Swann Lake Village, an affordable housing community in Lakeland, Florida, and was later approved for a one-bedroom apartment. 

Thankful for the income provided through Substitute Teaching, Esther planned to set aside her next check to cover moving expenses. Little did she know that something greater was working out in her favor. 

Unbeknownst to her, Talbot House was in the infant stages of launching its Diversion Program. A program funded by an incredible $30,000 donation from Grace and David Jones, proud supporters of Talbot House Ministries. 

Esther was incredibly surprised when her case manager, Angelina Ligon, shared that Esther qualified for the program’s assistance, covering all of her moving expenses. Not only would Esther now have her own home, but she would also have the financial margin to cover additional expenses like food, gas, utilities, and savings. 

As the first of its kind in Polk County, the Talbot House Diversion Program will alleviate the demand for emergency resources and make room in at-capacity shelters. In March 2023 the Talbot House emergency shelter operated at 110% capacity. As of the same month, Diversion has assisted 11 individuals. 

Even just as it is beginning, this program is making an indelible impact on our community. This program corrected the trajectory of Esther’s life, restored her independence, and gifted her the space to dream again, and this program will do the same for so many others. 

If you or a loved one are currently experiencing homelessness and would benefit from Diversion Assistance, call (863) 687-8475.


*Names changed