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Pasco leaders seek $1.3 million from state for transitional housing facility

Justin Cook, 21, and his fiancee, Dana Sutton, 23, rest after a meal recently at the Abundant Commodities to Share Community Resource Center in Hudson. They said they have been homeless since Christmas and are both looking for work.
Justin Cook, 21, and his fiancee, Dana Sutton, 23, rest after a meal recently at the Abundant Commodities to Share Community Resource Center in Hudson. They said they have been homeless since Christmas and are both looking for work.
Published Apr. 13, 2013


Rich Bekesh often finds the face of homelessness at his doorstep.

"It's not unusual for me to come to work in the morning and find people sleeping next to the building just to stay warm," said Bekesh, president of Spring Engineering in west Pasco. "It's hard to believe that happens in our state, in our community."

So Bekesh, known for his philanthropic heart, designed a 20,000-square-foot building that would provide homeless families a place to live while they look for work and find permanent homes.

The 24-unit building, to be operated by Metropolitan Ministries next to its outreach center at 3214 U.S. 19 in Holiday, would also provide services such as job training and counseling. It would be Pasco's first transitional housing facility.

Support has come from churches and other businesses. Last year, Scott Fink, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai of New Port Richey, and his wife, Kathleen, donated $100,000 to Metropolitan Ministries toward the $2 million effort.

Local advocates hope the Florida Legislature will help cover part of the cost, with $1 million for the building and additional funding for counseling, education and food. The Senate has allocated $1.3 million for the project. The House has not set aside money, but that could happen during a conference committee over the state budget.

"There's a great chance of the House accepting it in the conference committee," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, who suggested the funding to state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the appropriations committee. Fasano said aides for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have told him that they would work to protect the funding.

Fasano said the homeless in Pasco are made up primarily of parents and children.

"It's not the old fellow living in the woods," he said. "It's families living out of their cars or going from family member to family member."

The 2007 housing bust hit Pasco hard, and charities are continuing to deal with the fallout. Metropolitan Ministries' Pasco operation received more than 600 requests for housing assistance in the past 11 months, mostly due to foreclosure. Its monthly requests for services have increased by 112 percent since 2011.

"These are families that have lost their home for whatever reason, mostly foreclosure," Fasano said. "Getting them transitioned back into the work force, and back into a home, it's something that's very much needed in Pasco County."

The two-story building could house 24 families. It would include a living room with computers for job searches and resume preparation, as well as a laundry area and playground.

Metropolitan Ministries would provide meals from its kitchen, which it plans to renovate and expand to provide 2,000 meals a day to the area's homeless people, including kids in low-income schools and those attending its summer camp. The agency also wants to use the kitchen for a job training program in culinary arts. Metropolitan Ministries has raised $300,000 from other donors for the kitchen project.

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"As an economic development package, (the housing facility) and the accompanying kitchen will infuse capital and hope into the surrounding communities, such as Holiday Lake Estates," said Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries.

The building would have other benefits for the county as it is incorporated into a long-term plan to address homelessness.

After years of missing out on substantial federal aid, the Homeless Coalition of Pasco County came up with a 10-year plan to address the problem. It called for seeking millions of dollars in public and private investments ranging from the construction of 350 units of "supportive housing," more emergency help for rent and utility payments to keep people in their homes, and centers where people can get financial counseling and job information.

Having a transitional housing facility "will help us to keep bringing in federal dollars," Fasano said.