TAMPA — Three months ago, when she was homeless, Danielle Price would wake up in the front seat of her car and check her baby for bugbites.
At the time, she was struggling with alcohol. She was sleeping in random parking lots, alienated from her oldest son, Mason. She was afraid that child protection services would take Maddox, her 6-month-old.
Price, 28, finally sought refuge at Hope Hall, a $1.2 million partnership between Hillsborough County and Metropolitan Ministries. Completed May 1, the program provides free emergency short-term housing for 48 families and single women.
It comes in the wake of embarrassing revelations last year about the county's Homeless Recovery program, which for years funneled millions of public dollars to slum owners while placing families in unsafe living conditions. The Tampa Bay Times received a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the program, and its eventual shutdown by the county.
A roomful of officials gathered Monday at Metropolitan Ministries for a tour of the new facilities. They listened to Price's story and applauded the nonprofit's breadth of resources, which include GED classes, a guaranteed three meals a day and workforce preparation.
County Commissioner Sandy Murman acknowledged the Housing Recovery debacle, which she coined the "dark cloud" hanging over homeless services in Hillsborough County. She said Hope Hall will be a "bright light" that restores confidence among families trying to get back on their feet.
"It's really going to take us forward," Murman said. "This partnership is going to enable people to do so many things."
Tim Marks, president and CEO of Metropolitan Ministries, said tenants can stay at Hope Hall for up to four months. He said several factors will keep the program high-quality: 24-hour staffers, counseling and child care, case workers who help families locate new jobs and housing.
Despite being short-term housing, Hope Hall should generate healthy outcomes, Marks said. If families need more time, they can graduate to Uplift U, a program that allows families to stay another six to nine months.
"What we're finding," Marks said, "is that one year after leaving that program, 97 percent are living in stable housing."
After three weeks living in room 156 at Hope Hall, Price said she's already noticed a difference. She found work at the Salvation Army near University Mall and stopped abusing alcohol. She communicates regularly with her sons. Once she nails down housing, she plans on leaving the center as soon as next week.
"All I'm waiting for," Price said, "is my bus card."
Zack Peterson can be reached at (813) 226-3446 or [email protected]