Tent City gets a visit from the government listen10/29/08 Seán Kinane
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In January 2007, St. Petersburg police slashed the tents and destroyed the belongings of homeless people who had set up tent cities near downtown. Less than a year later, a government-sanctioned tent city for people in need of temporary shelter opened in mid-Pinellas County. Today in Pinellas Park, the Bush administration’s point person on homelessness visited that tent city known as Pinellas Hope.
Philip Mangano is executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Mangano said the Council's purpose is to bring together Cabinet Secretaries and 20 federal agencies in order to make resources available to battle chronic homelessness.
“That has actually led to seven consecutive years of record resources in the budget in Washington. That’s been very good for Florida; it’s been very good for Tampa and St. Petersburg, because record resources have come to these communities lately.”
Mangano said the Council on Homelessness has led to the creation of a national partnership including 49 states and cities and counties throughout the country “all partnered in business-framed 10-year plans.”
Mangano toured the rows of tents in a partially wooded area a little more than a half-mile west of 49th Street North with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities, the group that runs Pinellas Hope. Within the next three weeks, Murphy said, the number of tents will increase from 160 to 250.
A small number of Pinellas Hope residents don’t live in tents, but instead live in one of what Murphy calls “little houses.” They are six-foot by 10-foot wooden structures with windows and roofs that cost $1,000 to construct and last longer than a tent. Murphy said that of Pinellas Hope’s $2.5 million annual budget, about $1.5 million of it is donated or raised by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg; the rest of the funding comes from other sources, such as Pinellas County.
Recently Pinellas County committed $770,000 for the next year of Pinellas Hope’s operating expenses, along with contributions from five cities in the county including St. Petersburg. Eighty beds of permanent housing will be built at the Pinellas Hope site, funded by a $3 million grant from the state and another $1 million from Pinellas County and from cities.
Baker said there are two reasons why the community should continue to focus on the homeless situation. “One, it’s the right thing to do, it’s the morally right thing to do. … And secondly, it helps the community; the county, the cities, because there are many adverse impacts from having homeless on your streets, which does not help your city as well.”
Over the last three years, the news regarding the number of people who are homeless is mixed, according to Philip Mangano.
Florida received $541 million from Housing and Urban Development through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program -- more than any other state, Mangano said. The funding came from the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, which was passed by Congress earlier this year. St. Petersburg will receive $9.5 million, Hillsborough County will receive $19.1 million and the city of Tampa will receive $13.6 million.
A man who chose not to give his name has lived in a tent at Pinellas Hope for “a few months.” He said that despite the cold temperatures Tuesday night, it was “all right” in the tent, but real help would come with job production.
Another man who chose to remain anonymous is a boat mechanic who has lived in a tent for two weeks while looking for work and collecting unemployment. He said that despite the cold outside temperature, the people at Pinellas Hope made sure it was warm inside his tent.
Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF