TAMPA — A Hillsborough County shelter may soon become the second Tampa Bay area nonprofit organization to house Central and South American children from this year's deluge of immigrants illegally crossing the border, federal officials confirmed Monday.
The Children's Home near Tampa has been approved to house 27 children, according to Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.
Wolfe declined to disclose just where the children will be housed and when they will arrive. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said Monday she expects the children to arrive later this year.
Castor did not know exactly where the Children's Home would house the children. Officials at the Children's Home declined to comment, referring all questions to Wolfe.
The charity operates a 100-bed shelter on Memorial Highway in Town 'N Country for children who have dealt with abuse or neglect.
Castor does not expect the arrival of children who have fled poverty and violence in countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to cause controversy in Hillsborough like elsewhere. Some residents near other shelters across the country that have taken in the immigrant children have protested, asserting they could be gang members or carry communicable diseases.
"Most people realize these children are running for their lives. They're not gang members; they are running from gangs," Castor said.
Since October, nearly 63,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border from Mexico and entered U.S. custody, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Children's Home is the second bay area nonprofit group to agree to take in some of these children. Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services has taken in an undisclosed number of children at a shelter in Holiday.
Like the youngsters in the Pasco County shelter, children who come to the Children's Home's shelter will stay there temporarily while the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement searches for relatives or guardians who can care for them. The average child has stayed there 17 days before being sent to a guardian, according to Rochelle Tatrai-Ray, CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community services.
Tatrai-Ray's organization is applying to expand its Pasco shelter from 16 to 32 beds, so it can accommodate more immigrants. The application has drawn opposition from some neighbors.
"I hope not," Castor said Monday when asked if she expected neighbors to the Children's Home to protest. "This community has a history of welcoming immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. ... We're a diverse community. I do not anticipate an uproar."
Contact Will Hobson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400. Follow @TheWillHobson.