Rose Secord, a volunteer from Seminole and staffer John Orfield get evening meal ready.
PINELLAS PARK – There are about 7,000 homeless men, women and children living in Pinellas County.
They live in parks, woods, behind buildings and other places that provide shelter.
The Suncoast Haven of Rest Rescue Mission at 5625 Park Blvd. has been feeding, guiding and otherwise helping these unfortunates who often suffer mental problems and other disorders.
“We provide guidance, food, clothing and even toys for children,” the Rev. Lionel Cabral, executive director and pastor of the Church Inside the Tabernacle, said. “There are a lot of poor people out there.”
Many work at day labor jobs and earn about $35 a day. Sometimes they rent a motel room for a few days to get off the streets.
The mission’s annual budget is about $120,000, but it provides services for poor people from Oldsmar to south St. Petersburg. Everything results from donations.
“The Country Hearth Baking Co. provides about 500,000 loaves of bread annually,” Cabral said. “They are distributed to different nonprofit agencies so money can be used for other programs.”
Among the benefactors are outreach centers, veterans groups, churches and even a deaf center.
Donated canned goods come from various places, including Kash n’ Karry and Publix.
“We provide 28,000 meals a year,” Cabral said.
Why do people become down and outers?
“Drugs, alcohol, personal tragedies are among the reasons,” Cabral said. “About 30 percent have mental problems.”
It’s estimated that 15 percent of the county’s homeless are women. Destitute families generally get help from social agencies.
“You can buy a quart of beer for one dollar,” Cabral said. “They use it as a drug to help ease their misery.”
The mission’s staff is manned by former homeless people, volunteers and community service workers. Some homeless people do make it. Many do not.
“One man showed up after losing everything, including his family,” Cabral said. “He went on to become very rich after inventing a golf mechanism.”
Cabral himself is a former public school teacher and businessman. Once wealthy and living in a barrier island condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, he turned to religion seven years ago and joined the mission.
“I went through the wine, women and song lifestyle,” he said. “Now, I don’t own a thing and I’m very happy.”
He still stays in contact with his former wife, Barbara, who lives in Buffalo, N.Y. Their daughter, Nicole, is a clinical psychologist in Chicago.
Dealing with street people isn’t easy. Many are angry, demanding and violent. Cabral and his staff field at least 20 separate daily incidents.
The homeless and poor, however, do appreciate the mission’s efforts.
“It’s a Godsend,” said Deanna Rowland who moved here from Illinois eight months ago.
Another woman, Mary Powell, who came to Florida from Alabama six months ago, hoped to get enough food for the week.
Guest speakers come to the mission to help street people find themselves and religion.
“We exist because of donations from people and business,” Cabral said. “Any amount is always welcome.”