Residents will move into the Tampa Hope cottages beginning in February. Until then, beneficiaries will be housed in tents built on wood platforms. Temporary laundry facilities, restrooms and showers are available at the site until permanent facilities, including a kitchen, are built.
At least 25 people moved in to the community on Monday, and another 25 moved in on Tuesday.
“Not everybody is comfortable with a tent model. It’s unusual to some folks,” Husband said.
Others are not comfortable in cottages because of the small space and because they’ve gotten used to living outside. Tents themselves help residents make the change.
The new shelter differs from the bunk housing model offered by many other homeless shelters, which place people in large rooms with multiple beds.
“That’s not our model at all. Everybody goes to bed alone,” Husband said. “If they have a tough time with somebody at supper, they can just walk away and go to their own space.”
Individual housing helped avoid contagion during the Covid-19 epidemic at Catholic Charities’ local pop-up temporary shelter and another shelter in Pinellas County, Husband said. Case management sessions and therapy sessions also moved outside.
In addition to housing, Tampa Hope will provide food, clothing, transportation, employment and benefits assistance, basic medical care, and counseling for substance abuse and mental health. The St. Petersburg diocese’s Catholic Charities affiliate will provide support personnel and case managers for beneficiaries.
At full capacity, Tampa Hope can house up to 300 people.
“They could be you, me, a relative or friend,” Louis Ricardo, Director of Marketing and Donor Relations at the Catholic Charities affiliate, told CNA Dec. 13. “Many suffered some trauma that led to their episode of homelessness, including loss of jobs and a home or death of a loved one.”
“Many are hungry, sick, have been the victims of crimes, and haven't bathed in a long time. In sum, they have suffered a loss of the dignity that we are all accorded as children of God.”
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Some have suffered chronic homelessness for six to ten years, Husband said.
“Two gentlemen needed to be in adjacent tents because one helps the other dress and remember to take his medicine,” she said. “Another sleeps with a hammer on the streets for fear of suffering crime.”
There are also “unhealthy relationships” where women seek to be with a man not for true desire but for safety and protection.
“There is a lot of trauma that’s befallen the folks that we’re serving. For a lot of them, just to see a mattress and to know that they can sleep a little easier tonight because nobody is going to hurt them, is just a huge relief,” Husband said.
The most recent Point-In-Time survey of local homeless indicated that 21% suffer from mental illness and 11% suffer from substance abuse, Ricardo said.
Wages in Florida are also a problem: they don’t keep pace with the cost of rent, and affordable housing is also hard to come by. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, a similar project for the homeless of Pinellas County saw residents stay about 90 to 120 days on average. The state of the housing supply now means a 150 to 180 day wait for those seeking homes.