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Projects promise help for poor and homeless people

Two recently announced building projects hold out the promise of more help for low-income people struggling to survive today's rough economic environment.

In Tarpon Springs, ground has been broken for a new health center that will offer medical care to people regardless of their ability to pay.

And in North Clearwater, the remarkable Homeless Emergency Project plans to grow again with a new $2-million headquarters building that will provide space for counseling, medical exams and computers homeless people can use to search for jobs.

Without dedicated staff, volunteers, donors and some tax dollars, neither project would be possible in this economy.

The Community Health Center of Tarpon Springs will be built on land on Huey Avenue behind St. Timothy's Evangelical Lutheran Church. The church donated the 1-acre lot for the project, which, with $1.2-million in federal funds, put the project within reach for the nonprofit Community Health Centers of Pinellas.

The new building will have 15 patient examination rooms, waiting areas and a pharmacy. Like the other Community Health Centers in Pinellas, it will charge for its services on a sliding scale based on the patient's income. The services are a godsend for those who lack health insurance. The centers also help keep patients with routine medical problems from clogging hospital emergency rooms.

Barring any construction delays, the Tarpon Springs center should be open by next spring.

Meanwhile, construction hopefully will be under way on the new headquarters at the Homeless Emergency Project, a long-running provider of help and hope to the homeless that is located in Clearwater but serves clients from all over Pinellas County.

What began as an outreach program of Everybody's Tabernacle and its pastor, the late Rev. Otis Green, now has grown to occupy about five blocks off Betty Lane in north Clearwater. People who had little hope for a better life are housed, fed, provided with medical and dental care, offered occupational and personal counseling, and given the opportunity to meet with representatives of other agencies that can help them. According to HEP, almost three-quarters of its clients have raised their income and acquired housing.

The program is now directed by Green's widow, energetic Barbara Green, and overseen by a board of community leaders and volunteers.

For the headquarters project, HEP has received about $400,000 from Pinellas County and Clearwater, but it still has a long way to go before it will have the funding in hand for the $2-million project. Green is known for her ability to work miracles, but she could use some help on this one. A fundraising campaign will begin soon, but those with the ability to donate shouldn't wait to step forward.

The number of people needing help from facilities like these in Tarpon Springs and Clearwater will only grow as more people lose their jobs, lose their homes or can't afford to pay their health insurance premiums. Organizations like HEP and Community Health Centers deserve the community's respect for trying to meet that growing challenge head on.

Projects promise help for poor and homeless people 06/14/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 4:18pm]
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