Lakeland, Fla. (WFLA) – Amid a “tsunami of need,” the Salvation Army of west Polk County is expanding to house more families in need of emergency housing in north Lakeland.

“I would say over the last probably month and a half to two months, we have been probably turning away eight to 11 families every day,” said Capt. Jeremy Mockabee from The Salvation Army.

Capt. Mockabee said the factors include inflation, increased housing costs and the end of the pandemic-era eviction moratorium last year.

“Once that moratorium was lifted, all of a sudden we saw this tsunami of need coming. Not just us, those who were also in the same arena and do what we do, they also saw a huge increase,” said Capt. Mockabee.

The Salvation Army campus in north Lakeland includes 20 emergency shelter units and other apartment units for longer stays.

A woman named Kathryn, who did not want to share her last name, has lived in both categories of units since January. She owned an automotive repair shop in another state when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When a major company in her rural county closed, it affected the entire local economy.

“We were closed for 12 to 14 months and lived off our savings,” she said.

Kathryn went through all her savings, then her adult daughter found out she had cancer.

“We just really didn’t know where to go and what to do,” said Kathryn.

In the middle of all that, Kathryn and her family moved to Florida and that’s when she received help at the Salvation Army in north Lakeland.

“They are really a saving grace for myself and many people who just needed a helping hand,” she said.

Courtesy: Capt. Jeremy Mockabee

This week, ground broke on a $19.5 million expansion to double The Salvation Army’s emergency housing shelter from 20 units to 40.

“We want this to be the priority because we want to meet that immediate need so we don’t have to turn away 11 families a day,” said Capt. Mockabee. “Is it going to end everything? Is it the silver bullet? No, but man it’s a really nice step in the right direction for us.”

The project will also add 12 more of the apartment-style units Kathryn lives in now.

The goal is to have the emergency shelter expansion completed within the next year.

The organization is still raising $9.5 million for the project. Donations can be made online.