Arising early on Sunday morning, I prayed the Divine Office, sat for a bit in the church before the Real Presence of my Lord and Savior (there are advantages of living in a friary attached to the church), shaved (hadn’t done that in a few days, although you’d barely notice), and sat down to read the Tampa Bay Times, our local newspaper (digital version).
Most often Sunday mornings I only have time for a quick glance at the newspaper, mainly just to check the news to see if the Prayers of the Faithful need to changed for Mass – and then it’s off to open the church, greet the people, and all the normal rhythms of Sunday morning. But this morning I got to read the newspaper.
On page 3 I came across the headline: “Tent City Built to Help 100 Homeless in Hillsborough.” The City of Tampa has hired Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg to operate a small city of tents to house 100 homeless people. It is the city’s response to serving the homeless population of the area in the light of the city and county’s “safer-at-home” order. The site has mobile showers, mobile laundromat, portable toilets, and will serve 3 meals a day – and if needed medical treatment. In under a week, the site was equipped with water, electrical, security, floodlighting, fire extinguishers, and a host of support features needed to operate and maintain a small campground. It is called Hillsborough Hope.
How is this possible? Our Catholic Charities has operated Pinellas Hope since 2007. The operation was also born of necessity when the city of St. Petersburg was nationally embarrassed after abruptly clearing out an impromptu tent city by forcibly removing the homeless while slashing their tents. The city asked Catholic Charities to solve their problem and quickly Pinellas Hope was born. Initially, it served 250 homeless, living in tents with all the facilities described above.
Pinellas Hope has grown over the years to include the Pinellas Hope II expansion (2010) which consisted of a community center with permanent offices, (warming) kitchen, meeting rooms (library and computer room), a pavilion/covered dining area, men’s and women’s bathrooms with showers, and a laundry room. It also included 80 efficiency apartments (including 5 that are ADA-accessible) providing permanent supportive housing to residents of Pinellas Hope to prepare to return to regular housing. In 2017 Pinellas Hope (Pinellas Hope III, IV, and V expansion) grew again to add an additional 76 subsidized efficiency apartment units, including 40 that are dedicated for U.S. Military veterans, and including 5 units that are ADA-accessible.
Parishes, charities, food banks, and a whole community help Pinellas Hope to operate and serve to re-integrate homeless people and families into a self-sustaining life.
So when you wonder how could all this be setup in a week? The civil authorities had a need and Catholic Charities had “been there, done that.”
In 2010 (or so…), Sacred Heart spearheaded an effort with Catholic Charities to open and operate “Hillsborough Hope” modeled on our successful Pinellas model. The planning and persuasion efforts took months. It was rejected by the Hillsborough County Commission on a 5-4 vote. There was always a need, but never the political will.
After all these years…Hillsborough Hope is born in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic.
Funny thing about God and answering prayers. It is rarely on your timeline and exactly the way you imagined. Its why you keeping praying.