ST. PETERSBURG — The night before he showed off his room with the small stack of books on a bedside table, Joshua Carradero stayed up late to savor the privacy and furnishings of his new apartment, and his view of the quiet courtyard.
He lives in one of seven newly renovated two-bedroom units at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic's Men's Residence. The transitional program helps men striving to stay sober and drug-free to get back on their feet.
Carradero, 39, was one of the first to move into the one-story apartment building at 3835 28th St. N nearly three weeks ago. The relocation of the Men's Residence reflects the program's ongoing evolution, including a recent name change. As Beacon House, it had become known as a rough-and-tumble, night-by-night shelter and community kitchen. Before the move, men slept in barracks-style bunks in a large room.
That's changed, said the clinic's executive director, Beth Houghton. Part of that can be attributed to the move, she said, but the program has progressed in other ways.
The switch from a nightly shelter to transitional housing was made about 10 years ago, Houghton said. Homeless men no longer had to try to snag a bed by 5 p.m. each day. Instead, they could be admitted to a program designed to help stabilize their lives.
"Our residents are all pursuing permanent and stable housing," she said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. She said most of the residents are working, many are in school and all are clean and sober: "The feel of the entire program and facility is one of respect and stability."
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Carradero, a native New Yorker, moved to Florida when he was 18 to live with an uncle in Tampa. Struggling with alcohol and drugs, he eventually sought out Beacon House, but left for another program. That was too expensive, so he tried another.
Two months ago, he asked to return to the Men's Residence.
He is grateful executive director Milly Taylor — Miss Milly, as she is known by the men — gave him a second chance. He has a job detailing boats and planes.
"I go to (recovery) meetings," he said. "I go to work."
Taylor said the residence accepts referrals, but some call on their own.
"We do a thorough background check," she said. But she said a criminal background doesn't mean applicants will be automatically rejected, but they need to be honest about it: "We would hope that they would disclose any kind of background when we do our search."
The men are encouraged to get involved with a recovery program and are referred to mental health counseling if they need it. Residents have to work and pay $70 a week in rent. They learn to budget their money and are required to save and pay off debts. They also have chores.
"They have to take care of their spaces and the spaces around them," Taylor said. "I feel like a mom. They're my sons."
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The Free Clinic provides a variety of services for the needy including free medical help, emergency food and financial assistance.
Houghton said the Free Clinic searched for about two years before finding the multi-family complex on the edge of a quiet neighborhood, with easy access to bus transportation. Two top donors made the purchase and renovations possible, she said. One was Free Clinic finance director Linda Champion, who gave "a substantial donation."
"I saw all the good things happening to other programs," Champion said. "We needed a new residence for the men."
More than two years ago, the Free Clinic relocated and upgraded its Women's Residence. Champion's donation helped male residents receive the same upgrades.
"There's no doubt that the men have moved into a new facility because Linda Champion took the first step," Houghton said. "She accelerated the timeline."
A sizeable donation from retired business executive David Baldwin, combined with other large gifts from anonymous donors, helped complete the purchase of the $700,000 property. Donations also paid for $500,000 in renovations and to buy appliances, air conditioning units and other necessities. Kane's Furniture donated the furnishings.
The apartments display the names of donors. Champion has asked, though, that the community room — where men learn how to use a computer, write resumes and interview for jobs — carry a plaque with the following inscription: "A champion works hard to be a success. Be a champion."
The 6,500-square-foot facility can serve 28 men in its six two-bedroom and two studio apartments. Each two-bedroom unit has a kitchenette, bathroom and laundry facilities. Taylor understands Carradero's excitement about his new quarters.
"They have more privacy," she said. "He's accustomed to everybody talking and going in and out of the room. They don't have to go downstairs if they want a drink of water, or to eat or watch TV. Now the TV is right in their living room. They can control the AC or the heat."
She also noted that the men also no longer have to walk down a hall to share a community bathroom.
"It's a come up from the old residence," Carradero said as he sat in his new apartment. "I could have this for my myself, if I do the right thing."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.