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Pinellas Hope tent city

Homelessness is one of the most intractable problems in America. Cities from Key West to Seattle struggle to cope with ragged people who inspire both empathy and revulsion -- a dollar handed out a car window, an ordinance passed to keep them out of sight.

How much help to extend, or how little, becomes a civic balancing act. Cities don't want to become magnets.

Since it opened in 2007, Pinellas Hope has grown into the county's primary way station for the homeless. Spread out on 13 acres in an isolated, industrial area near Pinellas Park, it is run by Catholic Charities and receives more than $1 million in public funding each year.

It holds about 300 people at capacity and roughly 800 pass through a year. That's large by shelter standards,but only puts a dent in Pinellas County's overall homeless population, estimated at 7,000. Nicknamed "Tent City" by residents, it offers centralized services: Laundry, computers, telephones, GED classes, medical check ups and caseworkers who guide residents through the ropes. But admission comes with a price. No alcohol, no drugs, no families, though couples are allowed.

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