After Daniel Carnegie's bypass surgery, he expected to return to his tent out in the woods.
Carnegie, 50, who is homeless, was able to find shelter, however, in one of the newly built wooden sheds at Pinellas Hope. The 6- by 8-foot shed is undecorated, but comfortable and provides enough room for a cot and space to hang his clothes.
If Sheila Lopez, director of Pinellas Hope, gets her way, she'll add 100 or more of these sheds to her camp shelter in the next year. It all depends on the funding. Each of the dwellings costs about $1,000 to construct, with residents building the sheds to help defray costs.
Pinellas Hope is a camp shelter for the homeless. Originally started as a five-month experiment, the shelter has thrived since opening in December 2007. Erecting the sheds represents the advent of a more permanent structure for the shelter.
For now, access to the 10 sheds will be limited to residents with special medical needs and those who are exemplary members of the camp. Although small, the sheds allow residents to sleep above the ground and are a bit sturdier against the elements. They are ventilated as well. "If it wasn't for this place, I'd be dead," said Carnegie, who is recovering and will transition into a tent at the shelter next week.
"He asked for an extra week, and I said that was fine," Lopez said. "He's doing a lot better than when he first came here."
Lopez said there are plans to also construct 8- by 10-foot sheds that will be available to couples. The initial ones were built by a carpenter who lived at the camp but later moved out when he got married.
The sheds have also been a comfort for Scott Hubbell, 42, who recently had elbow surgery. Sleeping on the ground would be very painful. Unlike Carnegie, he personalized his shed by adding a few Tampa Bay Buccaneers posters. He has lights set up so he can enjoy reading his favorite Tom Clancy novels.
The sheds are embraced, but not applauded by some homeless advocacy groups. Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., said that he's approached several times a year by architectural design majors looking for the group's endorsement.
"Each one comes up with a low-cost design housing model that resembles a dog house for homeless people and they hope my endorsement will lend clout to their model," he said.
"The first thing I ask them is, 'Would you like to live here?' " Stoops said. The answer is usually no.
Stoops said the long-term solution still has to focus on finding permanent housing for people. "But, when 44 percent of the nation's homeless are not sheltered, this is much better than a tent but not as good as a home," he said.