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Pinellas Hope homeless shelter loses 60 tents to Hermine, but new cottages survive

PINELLAS PARK — The purpose of the Hope Cottages is to provide shelter to the homeless that also protects them from Florida's harsh storms.

Made out of steel shipping containers, 8 feet wide and 20 feet long, the cottages can withstand a Category 4 hurricane.

The good news: The structures passed a major test when Hurricane Hermine swept through Pinellas County overnight.

The bad news: Sixty of the 250 tents that are sheltering people until all the cottages can be built were destroyed. No one was hurt and the tents should be replaced by late Friday.

But the storm is a reminder of the importance of raising the needed capital to complete the 50 Hope Cottages that will ultimately house 150 people, said Louis Ricardo, marketing manager for Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg. Only five have been built so far, each housing three people.

"We were lucky," he said "We cannot simply hope we will be continue to be so lucky."

The cottages and the tents are part of Pinellas Hope, a temporary, 13-acre emergency shelter run by Catholic Charities for homeless adults at 5726 126th Ave. N. Ricardo said 208 people are currently sheltered in the cottages and tents.

Between pledges and cash in hand, Ricardo said Catholic Charities has raised $700,000 for the cottages. They need another $800,000.

Each cottage is elevated for protection from floods, and insulated and air-conditioned with three units that include a bed, window and lockable door.

According to Pinellas Hope's website, the cottages have a 30-50 year life expectancy compared to the 11- to 12-month life of a tent. And each one costs about $29,000 to complete versus $40,000 spent on replacement tents each year.

The first cottage opened on the shelter grounds last in December.

While national, state and local homelessness has declined since 2007, it remains high in Pinellas County, where that population is about 6,000, according to the organization's website.

That makes up .6 percent of Pinellas County's total population — or 3.5 times larger than the U.S. percentage.

"Every time there is a big storm another 60 to 70 tents are destroyed," Ricardo said. "We always replace them. Safety is paramount. Thank the Lord no one was hurt last night. But we need more cottages."

Contact Paul Guzzo at or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.