Tent City for Hillsborough County listen10/13/09 Mark Anderson
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Early last year, the Catholic Charities for the Diocese of St. Petersburg began seeking approval to construct a camp for the homeless in Hillsborough County. The planned facility, known as “Hillsborough Cares,” would use a Church-owned 12 acre parcel to accommodate 250 residents in a combination of tents and wooden sheds, known as Casitas. The Hillsborough County Commission convened today in a land use meeting, to vote on whether or not to allow the homeless camp to proceed.
Today’s hearing built upon earlier sessions in July and August, with a heavy turnout from local residents who don’t want the encampment in their East Lake Park neighborhood. Proponents of the camp cited the success of a similar facility built in Pinellas county two years ago, known as Pinellas Hope. Frank Murphy, President of the Catholic Charities suggested that action is needed now.
Tom Achison runs New Beginnings of Tampa, a 120 bed homeless facility in Tampa, and is a supporter of Hillsborough Cares. His view is that the homeless situation is getting worse, and action is needed soon.
Residents voiced concerns about the introduction of more crime that could accompany the transient population, and about the proximity of the facility to schools and children. Local resident Joanne O’Brien initiated the battle over the proposal late last year. Paul Cotter, another East Lake resident, echoed O’Brien’s concerns.
After the public forum concluded, the County Commissioners weighed in. Commissioners Higgenbotham and White were vocal in their opposition to the proposal, citing concerns over its proximity to neighborhoods, suggesting it would be better situated in an industrial area away from homes and schools. Commissioner Ferlita spoke in favor of approval. Ultimately Commissioners Hagan and Sharpe voted to deny the permit, resulting in a final 4 to 3 vote to deny the facilities approval, with Commissioners Beckner, Ferlita, and Norman dissenting.
Achison shared his frustration about the defeat of the proposal, and about the need for the community to invest in solving the growing homelessness problem.
For now, the 9500 homeless men, women, and children of Hillsborough County have lost one potential avenue for help and rehabilitation.