Helping hand even better than handouts for homeless

After the band played, the dignitaries delivered the speeches and the group gathered for the traditional ribbon-snipping photograph, the real work began. Thirty-five people lined up for boxes full of food staples and loaves of bread. More would come throughout the morning as they do six days a week at the Joining Hands Community Mission in Holiday.

They've been lining up since July, when the former Community United Methodist Church on U.S. 19 rechristened itself as a faith-based social services agency providing a one-stop resource center for the homeless or for people at risk of losing the roof over their head. It's the first of its kind in Pasco County.

The clients receive emergency food, help with temporary housing, computer access to apply for whatever government assistance they may be entitled to, employment and financial counseling, a mailbox to list as an address and to receive correspondence, and even free second-hand clothes if they've got children in tow or need better apparel for a job interview.

In other words, you don't just come in for a hand-out and leave.

''What's the plan to get you out of homelessness?'' said the Rev. Dan Campbell, pastor at the former church and who also heads the Homeless Coalition of Pasco County. "It's not about creating dependency or giving stuff away. How do we help you move beyond this and move toward self-sufficiency?''

It's a question they will be asking over and over again. The mission has helped 541 clients so far, but that was without a lot of attention. That changed Wednesday morning with the grand opening replete with amplified music from the RedX praise band, elected officials, VIP parking, tours of the four-building campus and an expectation that, sadly, the potential client list won't be slowing anytime soon.

Here's why:

• The Pasco School District just reported an 87 percent increase in homeless children over a year ago and projected it may help as many as 5,000 homeless kids by the end of the school year.

• Over a 12-month period ending in July, requests for emergency shelter doubled to more than 9,000 in Pasco County and those seeking assistance with electricity and water bills grew nearly 150 percent to nearly 12,700 families.

• An unemployment rate in Pasco County above the national and statewide average puts more people at risk.

That includes people like Heather Schafer, a 33-year-old mother of four, who was first to receive food Wednesday. Her husband recently lost his job when his employer, an air conditioning company, closed. She had never been to Joining Hands before Tuesday, when she came to fill out the paperwork for help this holiday season. She returned Wednesday for the emergency provisions before returning to the family's rented home in Jasmine Lakes Estates.

"Every little bit helps here and there. With six people, even with food stamps, it goes quickly,'' said Schafer.

Campbell talked of the homeless he has encountered. The list includes a single mother of three living in a garage, another mother of three living inside a foreclosed house and unable to pay the power bill, and a grandmother living in the woods who told Campbell she was certain she would die there if she had to stay outdoors for one more winter.

Joining Hands, part of Metropolitan Ministries community outreach effort, is the first of what is expected to be as many as eight resource centers in Pasco County.

Part of the workload — helping people apply for Medicaid, food stamps or cash assistance — comes from a state decision four years ago to push that former government function onto the private sector, a strategy reinforced by the closing of the former Department of Children and Families office outside Dade City. Now, the state agency will buy the laptop computers and train the agencies, but it is up to volunteers to help the needy receive their benefits.

Wednesday, the immediate benefits included toting away cardboard boxes containing cereal, rice, beans, canned vegetables and fruit and other nonperishable items. Each also contained a significant message.

''It's more than food, it's hope,'' said Campbell. "It's the hopelessness that kills people.''

Helping hand even better than handouts for homeless 10/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 5:48pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...