Pinellas Hope at 5726 126th Avenue North, Pinellas Park, FL 33762 US - The Florida Catholic -- Dec. 7, 2007

The Florida Catholic -- Dec. 7, 2007

Tent city for homeless ready for residents, needs helpers

Open and in full operation, Project Hope seeks volunteer ‘people power’ to cook and serve.

Standing in front of one of the tent-homes for the homeless at Pinellas Hope, St. Petersburg Mayor, Rick Baker talks with Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities. Pinellas Hope is set for a five-month run to help the homeless with shelter during the winter months and will provide food and social services. The “village” has a strict set of rules that the residence must agree to abide by.  
Standing in front of one of the tent-homes for the homeless at Pinellas Hope, St. Petersburg Mayor, Rick Baker talks with Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities. Pinellas Hope is set for a five-month run to help the homeless with shelter and social services. Baker, who toured the site recently, said he believes Catholic Charities is “perfect” for this mission.
CARLOS BRICENO | FC

CLEARWATER | It was a forest — up until about a month ago. Now it is a place of hope for the homeless.

Instead of trees, there are tents. Instead of thick brush, there are showers. And instead of hopelessness, there is hope.

Pinellas Hope is the name of the five-month pilot project that officially kicked off Dec. 1 in Clearwater and will provide temporary shelter to homeless adults. The community-based initiative is being coordinated by Catholic Charities and is on land in an industrial area on 126th Avenue, west of 49th Street North.

The project is “central” to the Gospel and to Catholic social teachings, said Father Robert Morris, the diocesan vicar general.

“We talk about the dignity of the human person and the preferential option for the poor,” he said. “This is not only a reflection of that, but a reflection of a partnership between the church and public and private agencies to fulfill that mission that’s so important to us as Catholics.”

Key partners include the diocese, which donated the 10-acre site; Pinellas County, which has given about $461,000 for operational costs; Harry Stonecipher, a retired businessman who donated up to $500,000 for capital costs; and the city of St. Petersburg, which has helped with site preparation and contingency backup funding.

Various officials connected with the project all agreed that the greatest good that the project can accomplish is this: “To get as many people from here to an independent living situation (is vital),” said Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities. “If we just bring them here to take care of them, that’s not good. But if we can help people become independent and get to a scene where they’re OK, that’s what’s important. Most of the times that’s back with their families and being connected back with families and getting treatments.”

As part of the coordination with various agencies, each guest will be assigned a case manager for an assessment and ongoing help in terms of services he or she will need to attain self-sufficiency, according to a project fact sheet.

Job-readiness training, housing referrals, mental health and substance abuse counseling, medical care and bus passes, along with transportation to and from work and job interviews, will also be available.

Pinellas County Health and Human Services will provide social work staff, and Veteran Services staff will make regular visits to the site to interview and assist veterans who need help in applying for benefits for which they might be eligible.

When admitted to the site, each guest will receive a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, a personal storage locker and a ditty bag.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who toured the site recently before it opened, said he believes Catholic Charities is “perfect” for this mission to help the homeless.

“Their mission is to help the poor and to help people work toward independence, and they can help deal with the character of the individual,” Mayor Baker said. “I ultimately think that a lot of getting people from the hopelessness of being on the streets to the hopefulness of leading independent lives has to get down to the core character of the individual to change that. I have so much respect for Catholic Charities because I believe they have the ability to do that. They’re in this for the right reasons.”

The site will eventually be able to house between 225 and 250 homeless people, and no breakfast or lunch will be served at first — only dinner, said Sheila Lopez, chief operating officer for the diocese. But that is because more volunteers are needed in order to cover more time slots for feeding the homeless, she said, and that won’t be accomplished until the dinner hour is covered in the weeks ahead.

No children will be allowed on the site, and homeless families will be served by the existing network of family homeless shelters or the Interfaith Shelter Program that is working with local churches.

One of the greatest needs, officials said, is people power. The project is in need of more volunteers to help cook the meals and also more people are needed to serve the meals, officials said.

“We’re going to be out here 150 nights, and that’s 150 nights we have to feed 250 people, and we’ve got lots of nights open,” Murphy said.

For more information, or to offer to volunteer, go to www.pinellashope.org, or e-mail pinellashope@ccdosp.org, or call the site’s facility manager at 727-278-3244, or the Pinellas Hope director at 727-244-5718.

http://www.thefloridacatholic.org/stp/stp2007/stparticles/20071207_stp_project_hope.php

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