DADE CITY — While his laundry spun in a dryer at the Restored Hope resource center, a 47-year-old homeless man sipped coffee from a plastic foam cup and told his story.
James, who did not want to give his last name, designs roof and floor trusses for a living. But the labor pool is small, he said, and he has traveled for 12 years, from one short-term job to another. Recently, while out of work, he stayed with a friend, but she booted him out after a disagreement. He said he is estranged from family and wouldn't want to burden relatives by asking for help anyway.
So he has been living in the woods in Zephyrhills, doing work for food and money by day for anyone who'll let him.
When he heard about Restored Hope, he hitched a ride to the Dade City center to see if the people there could help. The Christian ministry serves people in east Pasco whose stories sound like his.
"It's wonderful that they're here," James said. "And it's a shame that they need to be."
Restored Hope assists financially struggling clients with water utility deposits, water bills, gas cards and bus passes, as well as securing housing. It offers classes in parenting and budgeting, and has a computer that clients can use to apply for food stamps, plus a laundry facility.
The center has job interview-appropriate clothes for clients who have none, and volunteers help clients obtain Social Security cards and photo IDs, which they often need to present to potential employers.
"Sometimes, they've moved, had fires, had their things stolen," said Kathy Hunt, Restored Hope's outreach director and one of its co-founders. "We help them regain what they need so they can be employed."
A little over a year ago, Hunt, 61, toured Lacoochee with a friend active in the Boys & Girls Club of America there. She was shocked by the conditions she discovered "right out our back door."
"People were living in one-room shacks with just one light bulb hanging from the ceiling," said Hunt, a nurse who lives in Dade City. "We could not believe the poverty."
Hunt's interest in helping people in poverty is rooted in her Christian faith and in personal experience.
"When I was in my late 20s, we didn't have enough food and I had to go to a food pantry. I swore if I ever could, I would give back," she said.
She and her husband approached Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez, who introduced them to others who wanted to address poverty in a part of Pasco where there wasn't enough help.
"Right here, in our own back yard, people need assistance," Hernandez said.
The Hunts, Hernandez and two other co-founders formed the original board of directors for the ministry. By April 2013, Restored Hope was incorporated and in November, it opened. So far, it is entirely funded by private donors. The volunteer staff includes a social worker, case managers and administrative assistants.
At Restored Hope's start, Hunt connected with people from Metropolitan Ministries, who helped her launch the center and continue to meet with Restored Hope staff to teach best practices. In January, Hunt said, Restored Hope served its first clients — 22 total. Each month since, the number of clients has risen. In July, there were 103.
Jay Molina, director of compassion and action at Metropolitan Ministries, works with Hunt as part of the two ministries' partnership. He said Restored Hope helps its clients achieve that independence because it's what Christians are supposed to do.
"So many people think nobody cares. Nobody's bothered to hear their story," Molina said. "(But) we're God's hands and feet. It's not just about providing services. It's about providing hope."
James has two job opportunities — one in Ohio and one in South Carolina, he said. A church has offered to buy him a bus pass to send him to either state. Restored Hope can help him get his Social Security card and birth certificate so that he can get a new driver's license.
Before he showed up there, he had hoped he could crash on the couch of friends. None agreed.
"If I had a quarter for every time somebody said, 'Good luck, God bless, I'll pray for you,' I could stay in a hotel for a week and eat at the Golden Corral every night," he said. "You can't eat prayer. You can't eat 'good luck.' "
Now he has help — and hope.
"I will be out of this situation," he said.
Contact Arleen Spenceley at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235. Follow @ArleenSpenceley.