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Pinellas shelter for homeless plans expansion

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Hope, the outdoor homeless shelter, could soon expand to a sprawling, permanent, multi-service complex complete with meeting rooms and 80 efficiency apartments.

The complex, named Pinellas Hope II, would help more than 1,200 homeless people each year, said Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg, which runs and owns the tent city.

The expansion is the latest signal that Pinellas Hope, originally pitched as an experimental, temporary solution to the area's homeless problems, has quickly become a permanent and influential social services provider.

"We want to help as many people as possible," Murphy said.

The expanded complex would sit next to the 10-acre tent city in an industrial area off 49th Street on 126th Avenue in unincorporated Pinellas County.

The tent city would stay, and residents who need extra time to find housing could potentially move into the new low-cost apartments, where they would be expected to sign a short-term lease and pay rent, Murphy said.

At least $3-million in construction costs would be paid for through a state grant. But to qualify for that program, Catholic Charities must first secure $1-million in local funding by May 27.

Murphy said he began discussing the expansion with officials from Pinellas, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Largo this month. All have tentatively agreed to help.

About $81,304 would come from Largo, $127,501 from Clearwater and $580,500 from the county.

"It is a much better use than putting up more tents," said Largo Mayor Pat Gerard.

St. Petersburg officials lauded the effort this morning during a Housing Services Committee meeting and tentatively pledged $290,934 toward the effort.

"It has been a very successful project and we hope that this will take it to the next level," said council member Leslie Curran.

Nearly 490 people have stayed at the shelter since it opened Dec. 1. Of those, 122 found employment and 148 found housing. Fewer than 100 people remain. More than 200, or about 41 percent, are unaccounted for and presumably are on the streets.

The tent city was scheduled to close April 30, but business groups raised money to keep it open five more months.

The shelter has its critics.

"The Police Department has got some complaints about people who wander the area," said Tim Caddell, spokesman for Pinellas Park, which neighbors the tent city. "People aren't too happy about it."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Pinellas shelter for homeless plans expansion 05/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 5:17pm]

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