Homeless in Tampa get a Day of Dignity

12/16/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: homeless, poverty, CAIR, charity


People without homes and those who struggle financially were able to choose clothing from tables and tables of donated items.

photo by Janelle Irwin

People living on the streets and some of Tampa’s working poor were given supplies to help them get by this winter. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) partnered with other local agencies at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park just outside of downtown Sunday to offer health screenings, clothing and other necessities during Tampa’s first Day of Dignity.

“The services are there. They may not be able to reach out to them or go to these places. It’s good to have, it’s like all in one under one roof and on one day of the year.”

That’s Ghazala Salam, director of community and government relations for CAIR Florida. Salam organized a Day of Dignity in Palm Beach and helped with Tampa’s inaugural charity event.

“And it’s the same vision and goal to provide health and human services. To partner with local organizations within your community that provide these services for the homeless and the marginalized such as employment assistance, low income housing, clothing – providing them with the supplies of groceries, bus passes – I know today we’re going to raffle off about fifteen bicycles.”

Individuals seeking help were given raffle tickets at a registration booth automatically entering them for a chance to win a bike or bus pass. The idea is to give mobility to those who struggle with transportation and with that, a better chance at finding meaningful employment. But everyone was able to choose from stacks and stacks of donated clothing and blankets. Rick Foster traveled to Tampa from Salt Lake City as a representative of the Mormon Church. His group sent hygiene kits and school supplies to hand out to those in need.

“Every community around the United States I’m familiar with has these challenges with homelessness. A lot of times we feel like we need to reach half way around the world to Africa to be able to support an individual in need when the reality is these needs exist in our own backyard.”

Waling away from a table with a green bag filled with notebooks and pens, Charles Bass said he was thankful for the opportunity to get a hand up from local groups. Bass just moved into an apartment near USF, but prior to that he was living on the streets.

“It’s a company NSF. I was sleeping behind their three garbage cans. I would pull them from the wall and put some Styrofoam, cardboard and a blanket and then my sleeping bag.” Bass was able to find permanent housing through the Veteran’s Administration.

“I was somewhat content being where I was. The responsibility was really low. All I had to do was empty the trash. Now I wonder why in the hell I stayed out there really – oh good grief!”

For those who haven’t found a program to help with housing and for the chronically homeless who sometimes choose not to seek help, the Day of Dignity aims at making sure they have at least what they need to survive. Kyle Ismail is the national program manager for domestic programs with Islamic Relief USA – the company behind some two dozen events nationwide. He said it’s also about what the name suggests – giving those who often feel undignified, a day of dignity.

“A man was thanking us very profusely and with his voice cracking for bringing a blanket. He was filled with gratitude. I was feeling like we didn’t do enough. There’s more we need to do. We’re signing people up for healthcare making sure that people are – the affordable care act and other resources. He was concerned about a blanket because it was turning from fall to winter and he had to sleep under a bridge. It’s that kind of thing that we want people to be aware of. We want to sensitize people to the long-term needs of people and not to just overlook the needs of people.”

Within the first hour of registering people, at least 50 individuals were able to start collecting items. Some families also came to find help while their children played in an inflatable bounce house.

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