1. News

Pinellas Hope raising $1.25 million for cottages made of shipping containers to replace tents

A boardwalk connects repurposed shipping containers at Pinellas Hope, a Catholic Charities ministry near Clearwater. Each container was turned into three individual rooms for the homeless. Pinellas Hope wants to add more.
Published Apr. 14, 2016

Millicent Perry remembers her first night in the tent. • She woke up to rain water dripping on her face during a storm and couldn't make it through the soggy ground for a piece of duct tape to patch the hole. She didn't stay for long after that first July night at Pinellas Hope, a shelter run by Catholic Charities that provides housing, food and other resources for the county's homeless population.

But in December, Perry was back at the shelter. This time she was housed in a shipping container redesigned as a cottage. It was the prototype of what charity officials hope will be many as the agency kicks off a $1.25 million fundraising campaign to replace most of the shelter's 300 tents with 50 of the repurposed containers, partitioned into three living units, that supporters say are cheaper, safer and more durable.

"Coming out of those tents and into those pods … it gives something back to you," Perry, 55, said of her move to the container. "I was gaining my pride back. I was becoming a human being and no longer ashamed."

The idea for the housing came from members of the Knights of Columbus St. Raphael Council No. 10157, a local branch of a national Catholic fraternal organization that has worked with Catholic Charities in the past, said Jerry Sirgey, the council leader. The council members came together about a year and a half ago to brainstorm ideas to upgrade the tents, which several members noted weren't practical in Florida's heat and frequent stormy weather.

They landed on the 8-foot wide, 20-foot long containers, which are strong enough to sustain Category 4 hurricane conditions and cost about $25,000 each to repurpose, a one-time cost that's cheap compared to the roughly $50,000 a year the group spends on replacement of the tents, said Pam Long, director of homeless and veteran services for the charity.

Kevin Greeno, a council member who owns a carpentry and painting business in St. Petersburg, worked with Coastal Alliance Group, a local contractor, to design a prototype. The containers, which the shelter coined "Hope Cottages," are insulated and air conditioned with three separate units that include a bed, window and lockable door.

"From a construction standpoint, the speed and cost-effectiveness of taking it to the stage where you've got your frame, your doors, your windows — it's cheaper than construction. And it's more durable," said Patrick Millirons, president of the Coastal Alliance Group.

They finished the first container late last year and moved it onto the shelter grounds off 126th Avenue N, ready in December for the first group.

That first cottage came just in time for Perry, who was on the verge of homelessness again while living in an apartment with two roommates who stopped paying their rent shares, she said.

Instead of the tents, Pinellas Hope officials offered to let her stay in one of the rooms of the container — more livable accommodations that made all the difference in piecing her life back together from a slow decline.

Her slide to homelessness began 15 years ago when the father of three of Perry's five children died of kidney failure. Without a high school diploma, Perry got a job manufacturing plastic molding that she had to leave a decade later because of tendinitis she got while working, she said. Her monthly disability checks shrank after her youngest daughter, now 27, moved out. She lost her house, and she didn't want to burden her children, so the tents were her best option.

"Millions of people have my same story," she said. "Everybody that's homeless doesn't want to be homeless."

Less than a year later, in March, she moved into her own 247-square-foot efficiency apartment in Pinellas Hope II, a community for people transitioning from the tents to living on their own.

But she looks back with pride on her time in the container. Her container home is now one of five as the shelter moves forward with phase one, expected to be completed this fall with 12 containers. On a recent morning, Perry pointed out the cluster of cottages, standing beside the massive field of tents.

"That's humane right there," she said.

Those interested in donating can visit

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or Follow @kathrynvarn.


  1. Authorities found 29-year-old Sharee Bradley stabbed to death on Aug. 5. The chief says she had three children; the 12-year-old and 3-year-old were found safe, but Nevaeh had disappeared. Sumter Police Department/Facebook
    DNA from the remains found Friday has been matched to Nevaeh Adams, Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark told reporters.
  2. Cars back up at a Tampa intersection last October, not long before Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. This week, local officials detailed how the money would be spent, if the tax survives a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. URSO, CHRIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Local governments have plans for $527 million in projects. But the Florida Supreme Court would need to clear the way.
  3. FILE - In this Sunday, April 22, 2018, file photo, a statue of a chained man is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in racist lynchings, in Montgomery, Ala. Facing an impeachment inquiry that he and supporters claim is illegal, President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, that the process is a lynching. Some Republicans agree, but the relatives of actual lynching victims don’t. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Made in a tweet that drew backing from some Republican supporters including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Trump’s claim was ill-informed at best and racist at worst, they said.
  4. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Damien Wiggins Jr. was found with a gunshot wound in the parking lot of a vacant business on Haines Road.
  5. FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2018 file photo, Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz listens during a status check on his case at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. As his death penalty trial draws closer, a hearing is set for school shooting defendant Cruz in the 2018 massacre that killed 17 people. The hearing Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, likely concerns the setting of timelines leading up to the planned January trial of the 21-year-old Cruz. AMY BETH BENNETT  |  AP
    The hearing Wednesday likely concerns the setting of timelines leading up to the planned January trial of the 21-year-old Cruz.
  6. FILE - This undated file photo released by the FBI shows 3-year-old Kamille McKinney, who police say has been missing since she was abducted while attending a birthday party on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. Investigators searching through garbage found the body of McKinney, who was missing more than a week, and authorities are charging two people with murder, police said Tuesday, Oct. 22. AP
    The child, known as “Cupcake” to relatives, vanished while outside a birthday party on Oct. 12. Investigators know of no link between the suspects and the girl or her family, police say.
  7. An aerial view as police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurock, South England, early Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019. Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead Wednesday inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria. UK POOL  |  AP
    “We are in the process of identifying the victims, however, I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process," Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner said.
  8. A top U.S. diplomat, William Taylor, departs the Capitol after testifying in the Democrats' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    Democrats said they were shocked and disturbed by what they heard. A look at the key takeaways from Taylor’s statement, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
  9. A Florida black bear (not this one) was found at a Marion County school and removed. CARLTON WARD JR  |  Carlton Ward Jr
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Weeki Wachee Springs main entrance VAUGHN HUGHES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    From its iconic mermaids to its signature statue, Weeki Wachee Springs will be considered for historic designation.