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12 FLOORS, 1 STEP FROM THE STREET

"Come on in," Marilyn Smith yells through the window of her new apartment. "The door is open."

This is it, she exclaims. This is the living room/dining room. The couch was donated. So were the table and two dining chairs. They found the chair with the flower pattern. Someone loaned them the television.

The horseshoe hung over the bedroom door - they have had that for years.

"It is for luck," Marilyn says. "It's upside down. That means luck will stay here."

"I don't want to be back on the street," she adds. "Uh-uh. No way."

When Catholic Charities opened Pinellas Hope in December, county leaders hailed the outdoor shelter as a temporary answer to a complicated problem. Promises were made. One of them: the struggling would become self-sufficient.

Marilyn and her husband, Frank Cunnane, called the outdoor shelter home for two months. She made new friends. He counted down the days until they could leave.

When they decided to come to Florida in 2006, neither imagined they would soon be homeless.

They lived with Frank's cousin in Largo for nearly a year, surviving on Marilyn's Social Security checks and the wages he earned from temporary construction jobs. One night, without warning, Frank's cousin told them to get out. He wanted his apartment back to himself.

They stayed in a motel for two nights before their money ran out. Then they headed for a wooded area in the northern part of the county.

Frank sums up those two nights with a quick sigh. "Thank God it didn't rain," he says.

"It was like camping out," Marilyn recalls. She has never liked to camp.

They arrived at Pinellas Hope on opening day and were given blankets, sleeping bags and a tent to sleep in.

It would take them too long to save enough for rent and a security deposit, but Pinellas Hope helped find them a place at John Knox Apartments, a high-rise complex for low-income seniors near downtown St. Petersburg.

On one of the first mornings in their new 12th-floor home, Marilyn rolled over on the bed that had been donated to them and fell onto the floor.

"I thought I was still on the ground," she said. "I forgot I was sleeping on a bed."

They paid $213 for rent and moving costs when they moved in three weeks ago. Marilyn bought a shower curtain, toilet paper, some cups and plates at a dollar store. She paid to have the phone turned on. They paid the bill at their storage unit so they could get their clothes. Before she knew it, they were broke again and the rent for February was due.

The eviction notice arrived Wednesday. They had to come up with $135 or they would be out on the street again before the first phone bill arrived.

On Friday, Boley Centers, the nonprofit St. Petersburg housing agency, agreed to provide the needed cash.

But there are other expenses.

They will have to buy pots and pans. More food. They need to clean their clothes. He will have to find a full-time job, preferably one he can walk or ride his bicycle to. She wants to have some friends from Pinellas Hope over for dinner, to thank them for their help. Maybe they will get a pet bird, if it isn't too expensive.

"We are trying to make a home," Frank says.

Marilyn glances at the eviction notice sitting on the dining room table.

"We are going to keep the home, too," she says.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts

About this story

Pinellas Hope is an outdoor shelter off 49th Street N in unincorporated Pinellas County. The shelter opened Dec. 1 and will close in April. Until then, the St. Petersburg Times will run occasional profiles on the men and women who call Pinellas Hope home.

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