Tampa event for homeless people underscores need for centralized services, advocate says

TAMPA — Most Mondays, Jerry Morgan wakes at 4 a.m. on the streets of downtown, where he has lived for nine months.

He treks 2 1/2 hours to see a counselor at a veterans hospital.

"Nothing is close by," said Morgan, 54, who lost his home after being let go from a cleaning job. He said he recently walked 9 miles to apply for Social Security benefits.

On Friday, a woman handed him deodorant and new socks inside the Hyde Park United Methodist Church, which hosted an expo for street people called the Homeless Stand Down and Health Fair.

Morgan's mental health counselor was there. So were representatives from Social Security.

Despite rain, the event — hosted by the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County and its partners — drew more than 400 homeless people, said Rayme L. Nuckles, chief executive of the coalition.

They fingered pamphlets on suicide prevention and post-traumatic stress disorder and picked up backpacks, rain ponchos and $10 Publix gift cards. They signed up for birth certificates, medical care, mental health services, jobs, legal help and shelter options.

In a separate room, 90 veterans enrolled for benefits, including services through a new $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The pilot program is one of five across the country to target veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It's aimed at the recently homeless or those in danger of becoming so. Since starting here in April, it has paid to move two families and one single person into apartments. It covered back rent for another family facing eviction. Ten people were assessed for the program Friday.

Outside, a man stashed snacks in a briefcase and talked of the house he owned two years ago in Cheval.

Inside the larger room, William Joseph McClelland waited for a haircut. He said he lived in Singapore and ran a successful nutrition business for 25 years before being deported last year after marital difficulties. He tried to commit suicide but had an epiphany on the beach at Daytona and came to Tampa a month ago. Now he lives on the streets of Davis Islands and showers at Tampa General Hospital. He signed up for food stamps and counseling.

Stacye Gerthoffer was excited to get her hair trimmed. The 25-year-old lives in a park off Nebraska Avenue with a friend. She has been in shelters and abandoned houses for five months.

Curtis Johnson, 57, got into a furnished apartment after he signed up for help at last year's event. Johnson served 13 years in the Army. He said he's a certified plumber and was living on the streets before he got help.

And Morgan, the man who walks to counseling on Mondays, got on a list to get a bed at a shelter and signed up for an alcohol counseling program.

"They helped me a whole lot," he said.

Nuckles said Tampa needs a permanent "one-stop'' center to serve the homeless.

Morgan said that would save him a lot of walking.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Hillsborough's homeless

17,775

Homeless people in Hillsborough County, according to a recent survey.

. That includes 7,336 people living on streets or in shelters and slightly more than 10,400 people living doubled up — such as two families in one home or individuals sleeping on other people's couches. It is the first time the count included those who are doubled up.

. Earlier surveys found 9,566 homeless people in 2009 and 9,532 in 2007.

. The survey, conducted in January by volunteers, includes numbers from the Department of Children and Families and the school district.

Tampa event for homeless people underscores need for centralized services, advocate says 05/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:28am]

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