Metro Weekly

Justice Department grants $8.5 million to help Pulse survivors

Money will be used to reimburse costs of operating help centers and counseling for victims and first responders

Pulse Orlando memorial, Photo: Facebook.

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced it is awarding an $8.5 million anti-terrorism grant to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, for the purpose of helping victims, survivors and relatives of those killed in the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre last year.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the money is intended to pay for 27 months of services, a good deal of which will be used to reimburse service providers, who were forced to spend their own money to provide assistance in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. Among the services that were provided included mental health counseling for victims, witnesses and first responders, and the costs of the United Assistance Center, a one-stop help center set up at Camping World Stadium in the wake of the shooting.

Marilyn McCoy Roberts, the acting director of the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, said in a press release that her office was committed to helping victims of the attack heal.

“This award will reimburse victim services costs for operation of the Family Assistance Center in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and ensure that victims, witnesses and first responders receive necessary services to help them adjust in the aftermath of violence, begin the healing process and cope with probable re-traumatization,” Roberts said.

“I am thrilled that my office will receive additional funding to help the victims of the Orlando attack,” said Bondi, whose office will administer the grant. “I want to thank the U.S. Department of Justice for awarding us the funds we requested so that we can continue to make payments and assist victims in any way possible.”

The biggest single recipient is the city of Orlando, which will be reimbursed $1.5 million for the costs of operating the United Assistance Center. The second-biggest recipient of funds will be Orange County, which will receive $1 million to cover the cost of mental health services for first responders

According to the grant application, University of Central Florida psychologists and counselors are expected to treat an estimated 200 law-enforcement officers, firefighters and dispatchers in 3,000 group therapy sessions. They will also hold 300 counseling sessions for victims of the tragedy.

Under the grant, Two Spirit Health Services is slated to receive more than $800,000 for psychological and victim services for work done by 650 volunteer mental health counselors who assisted thousands following the shooting. 

The grant will also reimburse local charities like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities for the assistance they provided during that time.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com