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East Hillsborough residents, Catholic Charities create separate plans to house homeless

BRANDON — It has been two months since plans to create a homeless tent village failed in Hillsborough County.

While Catholic Charities reworks its proposal for a homeless encampment on 12 acres near the intersection of E Hillsborough Avenue and Harney Road east of Tampa, residents here have come up with their own plan.

"There are so many different ways we can work to figure out a solution," said Lela Lilyquist, director of Portamento of Hope, a Brandon soup kitchen. "And I believe that we can work together to find one."

Along with East Lake Park resident Hal Hart, Lilyquist wants to transform ailing mobile home parks into temporary, emergency housing — the same goal Catholic Charities had for its tent city.

As they continue to hammer out details, Lilyquist and Hart, who opposed the proposed tent city near his home, envision putting leftover FEMA trailers to use at mobile home parks either in foreclosure or with failing infrastructure.

The pair would like to use stimulus funds to bring the sites up to code. The homeless would live in the trailers while being assisted by case managers, Hart said.

"We're really excited about it," said Hart, who has been lobbying county commissioners and mobile home park owners. "And we really think it could work. But we still have a lot to figure out."

In October, commissioners voted against Catholic Charities' proposal to house up to 250 people in tents and small sheds, called casitas, on land owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Called Hillsborough Cares, it would have provided some of the county's 10,000 homeless people with shelter and social services. Catholic Charities planned to model the site after Pinellas Hope, its tent city in Pinellas Park.

But nearby business owners and residents fiercely opposed the project, saying they feared increased crime and a drop in property values.

In the wake of the commission's vote, Seffner activist Terry Flott anticipated proposals that would push homeless residents further from Tampa. She and other residents of unincorporated Hillsborough have kept a close eye on the issue.

Flott said she has concerns about the living conditions in mobile home parks, particularly those that do not meet county codes. In late November, a toddler died after slipping into an uncovered sewage tank at a Valrico mobile home park.

"We don't have a proactive approach from code enforcement to what's going on in a lot of these substandard trailer parks because of the budget problem," Flott said. "They rely on complaints. And we can't perpetuate substandard housing just for the sake of finding homes for the homeless."

It's important to stay focused on the big picture, she said. Homelessness in the county does need to be addressed, and not with tents.

But at Pinellas Hope, the tents are working just fine, said Frank Murphy, president of the nonprofit.

There, the group has about 250 tents. With the help of $4 million in grants, Catholic Charities is nearing completion of 80 efficiency apartments, a new community center and restrooms.

"Things are coming along here," Murphy said of the Pinellas effort. "And that took a long time. At first, the community here didn't understand what we wanted to do. But over time, that got better communicated."

Murphy said the nonprofit expects to have its retooled plan for Hillsborough County ready sometime in the first quarter of next year. Bishop Robert N. Lynch, who leads the diocese, still wants to use the Harney Road site, Murphy said.

"We're asking ourselves what the county is willing do," Murphy said. "Without the counties and cities, it doesn't work. We have faith that it will."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.

East Hillsborough residents, Catholic Charities create separate plans to house homeless 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 3:30am]
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