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Plan for homeless enclave near Tampa moves forward

TAMPA — Surprising many, Hillsborough County commissioners voted Tuesday morning to figure out a way to make the controversial tent city proposal submitted by Catholic Charities happen.

In a 5-2 vote, commissioners directed the county staff to review county law and define the conditions needed for the project's approval.

Currently, the plan doesn't meet a slew of requirements.

"We have 10,000 homeless, the highest of anyone in the state," said Commissioner Rose Ferlita. "Catholic Charities has offered us the vehicle to do something."

Catholic Charities hopes to rezone 12 acres owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg as a campground for temporary emergency housing for up to 250 homeless people. The land is near the intersection of E Hillsborough Avenue and Harney Road.

The plan calls for a mix of tents and small dwellings, called casitas, for use up to 90 days at a time. Catholic Charities intends for the project to mirror its other tent city, Pinellas Hope, across the bay near Pinellas Park.

In Hillsborough County, the nonprofit group says it could provide food, a safe place to sleep, and access to services and caseworkers for up to 1,000 people a year. The site, the only one being offered for use by the diocese, is an ideal spot because it's along a bus route and close to potential jobs, its backers say.

"We were concerned about what was going to happen, but this is a step in the right direction," said Rayme Nuckles, chief executive of the Hillsborough Homeless Coalition.

Those against the proposal threatened a lawsuit after Tuesday's decision. Residents and business owners said they fear decreased property values and increased crime.

"What they're proposing is illegal," said Hal Hart, who lives in the nearby East Lake Park subdivision. "We're not going down without a fight."

Commissioners are expected to discuss the findings Aug. 11.

Plan for homeless enclave near Tampa moves forward 07/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 3:28pm]
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