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Holy Ground shelter to move to bigger space

A hospital has donated a building, and the shelter's director hopes to close on the land soon.

She started with $900, seven clients and less than 2 acres on which to lodge Pasco's desperate.

Since Lisa Barabas-Henry opened Holy Ground in 1992, however, the population at the 8835 Denton Ave. shelter has outpaced its living space. At once a refuge for the homeless, a halfway house and a place for addicts to sweat out their habits, Holy Ground houses between 40 and 70 people at any given time on 1.7 acres off U.S. 19.

Now, after months of uncertainty about the shelter's fate, Holy Ground hopes to resettle on 6.2 acres alongside Clements & Son auction house in the 16000 block of U.S. 19 in Hudson, just a short jog north of the current shelter.

"Over the last couple of years, we've tripled (the population) of the year before, and if we triple this year, there will be nowhere to put them," said Barabas-Henry, who still runs the operation, the only shelter to house men in Hernando County and in west Pasco County.

Barabas-Henry hopes to close the deal in coming weeks, with donations supplying funds for the $137,000 cost of the new property. Still $16,000 short of that figure, Barabas-Henry said, the shelter will host a motor scooter ride from Naples to Pensacola to raise cash.

A former client of the shelter, who now works there as a secretary and who gave his name only as Larry, will ride the 610 miles on a Yamaha motor scooter, and people can give donations in the form of "buying miles," the shelter said.

Barabas-Henry said she hopes the new location will hold 150 people and provide room for the women and children _ about 15 families in all _ that Holy Ground is now forced to keep in efficiency apartments and a motel in New Port Richey. For the new site, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point will donate one of its buildings, which will be disassembled, hauled over on an 18-wheeler and rebuilt on the grounds. In it, Barabas-Henry hopes to house the first 30 to 40 people.

Chris Hyers, spokesman for the hospital, said the building now serves as a shed to store medical machinery and stood in the way of hospital expansion plans. Instead of demolishing it, he said, the hospital scouted around for someone who could use it.

"We found a home for it, which is great," Hyers said. "We would have hated to see this particular structure destroyed, and not used. . . . It was great, the opportunity to help someone."

Until other lodgings are built, Barabas-Henry said, other residents will stay in rented mobile units.

But Barabas-Henry said the shelter, which relies solely on private donations, still needs financial help.

"If we don't get moved and don't get money, that would be disastrous," she said. "If we double or triple this year, there will be nowhere to put (people). They will definitely have to pitch tents."

To donate

Those wishing to contribute to the motor scooter fundraising drive should call the shelter at (727) 863-9123.