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Quest Inn struggles as money dwindles

The facility that helps the destitute may have to close, its director says.

For more than 20 years, Quest Inn has provided people struggling with unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and other problems with food, clothing and enough self-respect to help them become self-sufficient.

But if the facility at 509 N Fort Harrison Ave. can't find more funding, officials said this week, it will have to close.

"We're broke," director Suzanne Bissett said. She has worked at Quest Inn about 20 years. "We're literally praying that we make it to the end of the year."

The facility, which operates with only two staff members and a budget of less than $100,000 a year, requires residents, who range from the homeless to recovering addicts to a male spouse abuse victim, to find a full-time job after seven days. Though they are provided with food, they must cook it themselves.

"We'll provide everything that's necessary but they have to put it together themselves," manager Leslie Backus said.

Bissett and Backus make a combined salary of less than $30,000 a year and live at the house, which doesn't have air conditioning. The facility can hold an additional 22 men and eight women. As of Thursday, 19 people were residing and getting help there.

Those who are recovering addicts must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or similar therapy. Once residents begin earning a regular income, they are asked to contribute $35 a week to the Inn. Bissett said those who can, do.

If Quest Inn's doors close, the city and county will be hurting.

Michael Holmes, a housing manager for Clearwater's planning and development services department, said because it serves such a unique purpose, other agencies would feel the effect were Quest Inn to close.

"It (would) probably be immediately noticed," Holmes said. "We are hoping that the other homeless programs would be able to also work in that area."

Because of her long commitment to Quest Inn, Bissett is even more convinced of its role here.

"Once people are back on their feet, they're going to be a part of this community," Bissett said. "The cost of running this shelter is a small price to pay for that benefit."

Joe is one person who can testify to such benefits.

Until just a little more than four months ago, Joe was an alcoholic with no home, no job and no one. But this weekend, he is moving into his own apartment, and he continues to work as a prep cook at Frenchy's Saltwater Cafe.

"You can't even find a job if you don't have a place to live because you have to give an address and phone number," Joe said. "If it wasn't for this place, I don't have a clue where I'd be."

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