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Getting into Pinellas Hope gives couple chance to exhale

Due to asthma, Pam Feagley, 50, has trouble blowing into a Breathalyzer during intake at Pinellas Hope. She couldn’t blow long enough to pass, but she and her husband, Randy, were still accepted.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Due to asthma, Pam Feagley, 50, has trouble blowing into a Breathalyzer during intake at Pinellas Hope. She couldn’t blow long enough to pass, but she and her husband, Randy, were still accepted.

On a cool spring morning, Randy and Pam Feagley, 47 and 50, wait nervously outside St. Petersburg's City Hall for a chance to get into Pinellas Hope.

Catholic Charities admits some residents in emergencies, but most arrive on Thursdays, intake day. Three law enforcement officers, each paired with a social worker, gather homeless people from around the county based on how many slots are open that week.

The Feagleys, without income since Randy lost a construction job, have been sleeping under bushes at Crescent Lake. They didn't make the cut last week, but St. Petersburg police Officer Richard Linkewicz scribbled a note that gave them priority in the future.

On this morning, six people show up for four slots. Only the Feagleys produce a priority note.

Randy pumps his fist. They're in.

Before they board Pinellas Hope's converted school bus, Linkewicz explains the cardinal rule: No alcohol, no drugs. Try to bluff your way in and you may never get another chance.

"If you have any painkillers in your system, you better have a prescription,'' Linkewicz says. "There's no such thing as medical marijuana here. This is not California.''

The Feagleys are herded into a large tent for processing. Urine cups and a portable Breathalyzer measure sobriety.

Pam has asthma. She puckers around the Breathalyzer tube and blows — one second, two seconds — then inhales.

That won't do, social worker Ryne Laxton tells her. The machine needs seven seconds of continuous breath.

Over and over she tries, but 7 seconds might as well be 40. Her face reddens with anxiety and Randy reiterates an old grievance: "If you would stop smoking, you could do it.''

After six earnest failures, an exception is made and she is admitted.

Getting into Pinellas Hope gives couple chance to exhale 07/23/10 [Last modified: Monday, July 26, 2010 8:56am]
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