Jamie Mick inched forward in the Dunkin Donuts drive-through line, waiting to order a large black coffee, heavy on skim milk and Splenda.
She needed a jolt to get the day started. She got one, but not what she expected.
As she waited at the store on U.S. 19 just south of State Road 52, Mick watched a man and woman take turns holding up a large beach towel to shield them from view as they washed their bodies with a garden hose.
"It was gut-wrenching for me,'' said Mick, who owns Tampa Bay Property Management.
Later, at the weekly Holiday Rotary meeting, she mentioned her experience to fellow club member Kim Bogart. By coincidence, he had been reading about the plight of Pasco's homeless and the ambitious plans of advocates to reverse a trend fueled by our plunging construction-based economy. It is a sad irony — a county that has witnessed several housing booms is now inundated by people without homes.
Bogart, a former high-ranking officer in the local sheriff's office, had just assumed the presidency of the 2010 Leadership Pasco class. He had been searching for a class project, a traditional requirement for the program that for 18 years has done exactly what its name implies — produce community leaders.
Mick, a 2007 graduate of Leadership Pasco, had just assumed direction of the program's advisory board. Her story resonated with Bogart, and soon the class of 2010 had its marching orders. They would build two portable showers for homeless people.
A few years ago, the 35-member class created a paved fantasyland at the Angelus complex in Hudson for cerebral palsy victims. An earlier class built a playground in a poor area of Dade City known as Tommytown. The homeless project followed that same charitable spirit, and it came at a perfect time.
"We had just unveiled our 10-year plan to end homelessness in the county,'' said the Rev. Dan Campbell, president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco. "This project recognized one of the biggest needs. People need jobs and it's hard to get one if you don't have a place to get cleaned up. This will help people maintain dignity and their health.''
The class called the effort "Hygiene for Humanity Project.'' In the process of learning more about portable showers, they also absorbed a disturbing reality. More than 4,500 people in Pasco are considered homeless, 1,500 of them children. The number does not include families that are doubled or tripled up with others in houses that were never intended to shelter that many people.
The school system considers all factors when counting children. Campbell said that number rose from 2,400 two years ago to 3,200 at the latest count.
"We're in a really bad situation,'' he said, "and it is getting worse.''
The goal is to move people toward self-sufficiency. The coalition is seeking federal assistance for emergency housing and assistance with utility bills to keep people in their homes. And it is establishing community resource centers where people can get financial counseling and employment information.
The two portable showers will go to the resource centers as needed. A company in Howe, Ind., JAG Mobile Solutions, built them for a total of $40,000. Leadership Pasco raised most of that money in small increments and still needs about $7,000. "The coalition has no budget,'' Bogart said, "and we wanted to give them a three-year window for insurance.''
Bogart, a law enforcement consultant who ran unsuccessfully for Pasco sheriff two years ago, is an accomplished carpenter. He outfitted two recreational vehicles that serve as mobile clinics for his wife, veterinarian Patricia Weston-Bogart. He initially considered building the mobile showers but that didn't match up well with the skills of most of the class.
So they hit the donation trail.
"That isn't especially easy in this economy either,'' Bogart said. "But people came through.''
And when he and Micks turned the keys over to Rev. Campbell, "we all teared up,'' Bogart said.
"It's an incredible gift to the community,'' Campbell said.