CLEARWATER — A local nonprofit coalition has begun to move homeless people from the streets of Clearwater into Tieman Village, a group of duplex homes the nonprofit coalition renovated with donated funds.
Ed Thiebe, development director of the Community Service Foundation, said the Going Home project that renovated the homes is creating a sustainable solution that reduces, rather than manages, homelessness in the city. According to its website, the foundation works with families and individuals to provide a healthy living environment, quality of lifestyle, support services and training to put them on the road to self-sufficiency, financial stability, and self-respect.
Two of Tieman Village’s first residents are Cynthia Hart and Charles King, a common-law couple who slept in shelters and outside before moving into a two-bedroom duplex in January. They share the apartment with another formerly homeless resident.
The housing program has created stability in their lives, Hart said.
“It’s great, I’m enjoying having a kitchen with a refrigerator and a stove to cook on,” Hart told the Beacon, smiling. “It’s so nice to know you have a place to stay at night, that you don’t have to worry about the weather.”
Sleeping outside brings great risk. Homeless feel constantly under threat of losing their property and of course, of being arrested. They can feel threatened by bad actors who also live on the street.
“It’s good for us to have a safe place,” said King, who wants Hart safe while he unloads trucks part time at a local warehouse. “Tieman Village is really safe, we have no problems with others in the neighborhood. In fact, there’s a police substation right at the corner from us.”
Thiebe, a friendly and energetic project director whose office is just a few blocks from Tieman Village, said Phase 1 of the project consists of three, duplex buildings on the corner of Martin L. King Jr. Boulevard and Woodlawn Street in south Clearwater. Like Hart and King, the residents of the three duplexes are people once trapped in homelessness.
The properties are in the heart of the Lake Bellevue neighborhood, a stressed community that’s home to a Clearwater Police Department substation, a dental clinic, a park, and laundromat.
The new residential block is named for Duke Tieman, a long-time Lake Bellevue Neighborhood Association president. He owned the property upon which Tieman Village sits.
Thiebe and the CSF reached out to Clearwater organizations that feed, clothe, and provide temporary shelter for disenfranchised people to see if there is a way to coordinate their efforts.
“There really isn’t a homeless program for the chronic homeless on the streets of downtown Clearwater,” Thiebe told the Beacon. “There are a lot of other charity groups doing work for the homeless, so the idea was to bring those groups together and figure out a way to not just sustain homelessness, but to reduce it.”
The result was the formation of the Going Home Coalition, which includes The Refuge Outreach Church, Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church of Clearwater, St. Vincent-DePaul Community Kitchen, Resource Center of Clearwater, Church of Scientology, Trinity Presbyterian and Peace Café, and the Joy of the Gospel Ministries.
It’s from these organizations that the CSF and Thiebe locate homeless veterans and others who are good candidates for permanent housing.
“We said, guess what, we have these vacant properties that we need help to rehab them. Hey, let’s get the homeless to help us. Some of you may or may not end up being tenants in the property. But this is a way for you to give back.”
The homeless volunteers put hundreds of hours into renovation and construction work to make the homes livable, Thiebe said.
The total cost of Phase 1 was at first $130,000, but donations of furniture, supplies, and materials reduced that to around $40,000, documents from the CSF show.
According to Thiebe, Phase 1 of Tieman Village, which was completed in January, includes six units that are already home to 11 people who had been living on Clearwater’s streets. A group of CSF volunteers on a recent weekend planting shrubs, flowers, and other final touches to the landscaping.
Phase 2, to be finished in June, will cost $40,000 and will include 1 single unit and second, 3 bed/2 bath unit that combined, will house eight more tenants.
Other run-down buildings are set to be renovated after that, including the Myrtle Triplex project, which includes three single units for six residents at a cost of $15,000 (Phase 3) and the Emrani House-Duplex renovation of two single units for four more tenants at a cost of $40,000 (Phase 4).
Though the combined cost of all the renovation projects is $135,000, it’s an investment that is much less than what it costs taxpayers to serve homeless people on the streets, Thiebe said.
“We recognize what we don’t invest now in stabilizing homeless families and children will be spent many times over on providing services for them down the road,” he said, citing data from 65 U.S. cities. “The cost of keeping homeless people on the street is between $35,000 and $150,000 per person, per year, depending on the severity of the case.”
Now that the homes are being made habitable, some Going Home Coalition members act as mentors to provide guidance so former homeless move toward self-sufficiency.
Housing candidates receive Social Security, disability, veteran pay, or other monthly income, but they weren’t managing their money properly, Thiebe said.
“It’s one thing to give them a set of keys, but now who’s doing the follow-up, who is holding them accountable, to help them continue to move in the direction that they are?” Tiebe said.
Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church members and other Going Home members have been mentoring the new residents, checking in on them and encouraging their transition.
“The mentors serve as a friend who they can call, someone who can build a relationship with them,” he said.
Shaun and Michele Powers, who opened The Refuge in Clearwater to provide breakfast and church services for homeless and the disenfranchised, referred Hart and King to the Tieman Village program.
“Shaun and Michelle asked us if we were willing to move into the house, and it took us about 30 seconds to decide,” King said. Since Hart and King moved in, the Powers and volunteers at The Refuge are just a phone call away, King said. “We talk to them often,” said King, who works every day unloading 53-foot tractor trailers.
In fact, none of the 11 Tieman Village residents — who were once thought to be chronically homeless — have failed to pay their monthly rent on time.
“All of them are still there,” he said. “They are all signing leases, they are all getting housing, they are all making rent. You can’t imagine the pride that they have."