The Rev. Lionel Cabral is scrambling to find a new home for the Suncoast Haven of Rest Rescue Mission after the city of Pinellas Park purchased two buildings at 5625 and 5663 Park Blvd.
PINELLAS PARK – Following increased complaints from neighbors of the Suncoast Haven of Rest Rescue Mission, the Pinellas Park City Council decided to solve the problem by purchasing the group's two pieces of property on Park Boulevard. The deal forces the mission to relocate by the end of January.
At its Nov. 20 meeting, the council voted 4-0 to purchase the Haven of Rest's two pieces of property at 5625 and 5663 Park Blvd. – with Councilman Rick Butler abstaining from the vote because he owns property at 5635 Park Blvd. in the same commercial strip, sandwiched between the two buildings. The city will purchase the properties for $370,000, with an estimated $5,140 for closing costs.
The deal will close on Friday, Dec. 21, city officials said, but they'll allow the Haven of Rest to remain in the buildings through Jan. 21 rent-free while the group organizes its move.
"It was kind of a fast deal," said Rev. Lionel Cabral, who runs the rescue mission. "The whole thing happened so quickly, especially given the state of the real estate market."
He said it was not even two months ago that he was first invited to a meeting with neighbors, police representatives, and city officials to address some of their concerns. He didn’t expect the situation to escalate so quickly.
Haven of Rest offers a multitude of services to homeless individuals and families in the area, including daily meals, food boxes, free clothing, and hot showers. The city has fielded complaints about the mission for years, said Tim Caddell, spokesperson for the city, and the grievances have increased since August, after the mission bought its second building in the strip.
Neighbors routinely complain that homeless individuals trespass and urinate on their property, have stolen items from yards, and that some often show up for the daily meals drunk or on drugs and are belligerent, Caddell said.
“They care for the hardcore homeless,” he said. “They’re on drugs and alcohol. These are who Lionel ministers to. And it’s a good thing there’s someone there to worry about them, but it’s gotten out of control in the area.”
“These people need help,” said one resident on 76th Avenue, behind the strip where the rescue mission is located, who wished to remain anonymous. “We see them going up and down the street all the time. But the rescue mission is not giving them the help they need. They need to be in halfway houses or something.”
Cabral acknowledges there are a dozen or so individuals who regularly cause problems. “But they’re banned,” from Haven of Rest he said. And the mission calls the police when they show up.
“The police pick them up and they’re issued a trespass citation … The only thing we can do is trespass them. Then they’re back out there the next day,” he said.
He said he understands why neighbors are upset, but that the mission does everything it can to keep these individuals away.
Over the past month or so, the city has stepped up enforcement of the area. It’s borrowed an observation tower from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to install a video camera. Neighbors were provided a Web link to view the footage captured by this camera so they could easily contact police if they saw anything suspicious.
Caddell also said there have been zoning issues with the mission over the years, since their buildings aren’t zoned for cooking meals or housing people, and parking has always been an issue.
He added, “It’s not a matter of forcing the mission out. It’s a matter of balancing the work of the mission with the needs of the community.”
What really matters is how many people Haven of Rest assists, Cabral said. And the organization’s statistics speak volumes, he added. The mission provides poor and homeless residents of the county with 1,697 meals and meal equivalencies each day and serves as a food bank for 171 local nonprofit groups. There are also 11,465 impoverished families signed up to receive food boxes.
“There are only half a dozen, maybe 10 people complaining and over 600,000 people who benefit from the mission each year,” he said. “They need to have a little empathy, and maybe live with a little discomfort to help all these people.”
But rather than stir up controversy, Cabral would like to remain on friendly terms with the city as he searches for a bigger and better home for the rescue mission, one that will allow the organization to expand its services.
The city is actually working closely with the mission to find it a new home.
“They do good work,” Caddell said. “We’re not trying to run them out of the city. We just need to find them a place not in a residential area.”
Bud Wortendyke, a real estate coordinator for the city who handled the purchase of the mission’s property, provided Haven of Rest with a list of several pieces of property in northern Pinellas Park, closer to the homeless encampment Pinellas Hope, that might better suit its needs. “They do some really good things,” he said. “But they really need a bigger spot.”
In a way, though the mission is left scrambling to find a place to move over the holidays, this situation is almost a blessing in disguise. “We’ve wanted to find a new home for years,” Cabral said.
Now Haven of Rest is forced to seek it out. And it happens to coincide with the mission being gifted over $1 million about six months ago from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
“We’ll be able to do so much more with a bigger building,” he said. “I just wish we had more time to find it.”
Cabral said he doesn’t want to just jump at the first property he sees, but is open to any situation at this point, including leasing space from other local organizations and purchasing a site zoned as a restaurant. The mission has even reached out to collaborate with Catholic Charities and D and D Missionary Homes.
“If they’re worried about the homeless just walking up, we’re also interested in renting their space as storage for our bulk foods and food bank, and renting a separate space for serving people,” he said.
For the city, the purchase of the Haven of Rest’s buildings is part of a bigger community redevelopment plan.
“We’re talking to all the property owners [in that strip] about purchasing their lots,” Caddell said.
There are about eight properties total.
“For years we’ve looked at that area, and this is a chance to redevelop the whole block,” he said.