Nonprofit leader looks to create respite for the homeless in Tampa

The Seattle Times 
Beth Ross, founder of Blanket Tampa Bay, aims to create a Tampa Urban Rest Stop resembling those in Seattle that will provide free showers, restrooms and laundry facilities to the homeless.
The Seattle Times Beth Ross, founder of Blanket Tampa Bay, aims to create a Tampa Urban Rest Stop resembling those in Seattle that will provide free showers, restrooms and laundry facilities to the homeless.
Published August 30 2018
Updated September 4 2018

TAMPA — Plans have been drawn for a Tampa Urban Rest Stop that will provide free showers, restrooms and laundry facilities to the homeless.

But no site has been set yet for the facility, modeled after Seattle’s rest stops that have grown from one site to three locations in recent years, said Beth Ross, founder of Blanket Tampa Bay and the woman spearheading the local effort.

Ross said the next step is to find a building to house the rest stop that will be created with a 45-foot shipping container with stackable washers and dryers, sinks, showers, changing rooms and lockers.

But the purpose of the site is greater than personal hygiene, she said. Plans call for staffing specialists for jobs and therapists to be on site to help those in need. A clothes closet and haircuts also would be part of it.

The 2017 Homeless Count in Hillsborough County Report states there are at least 1,549 homeless men, women, and children in Tampa-Hillsborough County on any given night. These are people sleeping on the streets, in make-shift camps, in cars, emergency shelters and transitional housing.

"It is solving a community problem - getting them cleaned up and giving them a job," said Ross, who has distributed thousands of blankets, clothes, toiletries and other items over the past four years to the area’s homeless. "How could that not be a good thing?"

Finding a location is still an issue. It needs to be "centrally located," where homeless congregate, said Tampa Police Department Homeless Liaison Officer Daniel McDonald, who has met with Ross regarding the proposed rest stop.

" There is definitely a need; but the biggest issue is a classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue," McDonald said.

It can’t be a burden on a neighborhood as some homeowners object to homeless gathering for meals and clothing distributions near their homes.

One possible location that has been considered is near the Interstate 275 and Interstate 4 junction in north downtown Tampa.

"If we could find a good place for it, it definitely has got merit," McDonald said.

He added that Tampa Police Department is focusing on trying to find housing for the homeless and hopefully, eventually, there wouldn’t even be such a need.

The Urban Rest Stop container will cost $75,000; it is designed by Kubed Living in California and will be manufactured in California with it shipped to the Tampa area at no extra cost, Ross said.

Ross said It would be open from about 6 to 11 a.m. and again from 2 to 5 p.m. It would be run by volunteers with soaps, laundry detergent and other supplies donated by businesses and individuals.

"We would be giving these people their dignity back," she said recently. "Our plan is to have scrubs that they can wear while they wash their clothes. I have people who have already volunteered to help."

Ross, who visited Seattle last year to see the operation there, is gathering donations from individuals and corporations for the project. She is organizing a tea, open to the public, Saturday to share information and seek funds.

GTE Financial is a supporter of the plan, having donated $5,000.

"As a credit union, we are here to help our communities and nonprofit organizations that share our mission of ‘people helping people’," stated Brian Best, president and CEO of GTE Financial, in an email. "We are proud to help Blanket Tampa Bay because they have given so much to local families and individuals in need.

"The work that they do is admirable and we hope that this donation can help contribute to their continuous efforts and making a difference in people’s lives."

Ross considers the Urban Rest Stop an "outgrowth " of Blanket Tampa Bay, which began when she received $100 and wanted to use it to help others. She gives blankets and toiletries weekly at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, 1203 N. Nebraska Ave., in partnership with others doing a weekly Monday night food distribution. Each year she provides more than 1,000 blankets at Christmas time in conjunction with Trinity Cafe and other organizations.

It would be the first permanent facility of its kind in the area. Some other organizations serving the homeless have mobile showers that visit areas of high concentration of homeless or outreach.

Ross said while such visits are helpful, they are often too infrequent "and what is the person supposed to do, jump back into dirty clothes?"

Contact Lenora Lake at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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