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Tent city opens doors for homeless people
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Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Myers of the Homeless Outreach Team that handles Lealman and Maureen A. Freaney, bureau director for Pinellas County’s Heath and Human Services, discuss Pinellas Hope goals.
PINELLAS COUNTY - A tent city known as Pinellas Hope opened its doors to public scrutiny on Nov. 29 as workmen put finishing touches on portable buildings and other facilities that will house some of Pinellas County’s homeless.

The pilot project provides temporary shelter through April 30, 2008 for street people on a voluntary basis. The project is being coordinated by Catholic Charities and financed by county and private funding.

The facility at 126th Avenue, about a mile off 49th Street, offers tents with mattresses, restrooms, showers, a kitchen and social services.

“We will evaluate the program, collect data and then determine its future,” said Maureen A. Freaney, bureau director for Pinellas County’s Heath and Human Services.

Freaney said it is too early to determine if the project will be expanded or extended past the April closing date.

Pinellas Hope will house about 250 homeless men, but will not offer facilities to women and children. It will be staffed 24 hours-a-day. The residents are expected to seek work or apply for services that will help them attain self sufficiency.

The facility will offer, among other things, mental health counseling and alcohol and drug abuse addiction assistance.

“It is hoped that the project will help people make the transition from the streets,” Freaney said. “We want to break the cycle of homelessness by providing a stable and safe environment.”

Mayor Rick Baker of St. Petersburg voiced support for the project.

“We want to get the homeless off the streets and come to a place that offers social services and safety,” Baker said.

St. Petersburg has been battling homelessness for years and just recently came under attack when police destroyed a tent city under I-275.

A homeless demonstration during the Nov. 28 Republican presidential debate at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg pretty much fizzled due to heavy showers and because the demonstrators were moved out of the spotlight.

“Homeless people gather where they can get help,” Baker said. “A vast majority of homeless people want to come here.”

Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities, said the project will help change the opinion of homeless people.

The Catholic Diocese donated the 10-acre property where Pinellas Hope is located.

Besides Catholic Charities, other key partners include Progress Energy, Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners, Trinity Presbyterian Church, the First United Church of Clearwater, St. Anthony’s Hospital and the cities of St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.

Scores of other organizations and businesses jumped on the bandwagon to provide money and services, including retired businessman Harry Stonecipher who contributed $500,000 and Pinellas County that kicked in another $461,278 for operations.

Some businesses such as Terra Construction and Krane Development donated site clearing and preparation work.

Each person that enters Pinellas Hope will be assigned a case worker. Other services include job readiness training, housing referrals, mental health and other counseling, medical assistance and transpiration to job interviews and other reasons.
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