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PINELLAS HOPE BREAKS GROUND ON NEXT PHASE

A permanent addition will add 80 housing units to the tent city.

Catholic Charities officially broke ground Friday on a permanent addition to Pinellas Hope, a tent city built two years ago to address the county's swelling homeless population.

Plans call for 80 housing units, a community center and a medical unit to be built alongside the tents on 10 acres near 126th Avenue in unincorporated Pinellas County.

"This has become a national model for how to help the homeless," Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said during the ceremony.

The expansion was funded by $3 million in state grants, plus commitments from Pinellas County and the cities of Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg for an extra $1 million. Currently 250 people live in tents and small buildings on the property.

"None of us can do this by ourselves," said Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities.

Murphy said people stay an average of 89 days at Pinellas Hope and 900 people have come through the operation. About half succeed in getting off the streets, he said, though the figure doesn't track long-term success.

Pinellas County gave $770,000 to Pinellas Hope this year, but the commission did not directly allocate any money to the group in the 2010 budget.

Because of the recession, the commission decided to set aside $1 million for homeless initiatives instead, requiring different groups to compete for the money. The commissioners will meet Tuesday to approve the budget.

Catholic Charities has said funding is required from the county, otherwise it would need to close. It has asked for $600,000, but it is competing against 16 other proposals with requests that total more than $1.8 million.

Andy Boyle can be reached at aboyle@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8087.

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