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Homeless Recovery gives hope to family in agony over rape

Every day, the mother and father replay the events of that horrific morning.

They awoke last August to discover that an intruder had broken into their North Tampa home and raped their 10-year-old daughter. Depression and denial gripped them at first. Then came the realization that a nightmare had become reality. Again.

This was a family all too familiar with sexual assault. An assailant raped and killed the husband's mother during his childhood. Relatives twice raped the mother during her teens.

"I wasn't suppose to question God, but I did," said the husband, who isn't being identified to protect his daughter.

On that morning, however they could only focus on their daughter and a younger son.

The daughter could only ask, "Do you still love me? Am I still daddy's little girl?"

The mother held her.

"I just sat and cried with her," the mother said. "When I cried with her, I wasn't just crying because of what happened to her, I was crying because of what happened to me. It brought back so much pain that I had suppressed."

But she couldn't suppress the damage done to their home. The house had become a crime scene, covered with fingerprint dust. The security it once offered had been shattered by the serial rapist who remained on the streets.

"We just knew we couldn't put her back into that house," the mother said.

Police officials referred the family to Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery program, part of its department of social services, which provides relief to the county's homeless population.

The term Homeless Recovery may conjure up visions of helping panhandlers and dope heads, but more often, it's the reverse: Life has crashed down on their clients.

"I saw that this was a family that had a series of things happen to them, but I knew with a proper channeling, they didn't have to go down," said Bernadine White-King, the agency's program manager. "We try to invest in people who invest in themselves."

So White-King and the agency went to work. They found a temporary apartment for the family and furnished vouchers for food and incidentals. She also brought in the school district's Homeless Help Team, which assessed the kids' mental and physical needs, reassigned them to a new school and furnished backpacks filled with supplies.

Homeless Recovery helped the mother — the family's lone breadwinner because the father is disabled — find a new and higher-paying job.

It also found a permanent home for the family: an apartment in a nice and safer part of Tampa. Donors stepped up with new furniture and other supplies for the family. The kids received Christmas gifts from anonymous angels.

Meanwhile, Tampa police apprehended the rapist, thanks in part to the daughter's help.

Now both kids are bright and healthy. The daughter has refocused on school and continues to play the piano. The son has blossomed into an honor student. The family sings the praises of Homeless Recovery and White-King, whom the kids call Nana.

Says the father, "If you saw them, you wouldn't even think that this happened."

Here's hoping Homeless Recovery creates more happy endings.

That's all I'm saying.

Homeless Recovery gives hope to family in agony over rape 03/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2008 9:46am]
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