TAMPA, Fla. — “Bad News for Homeless Project” was the June 11 headline in the St. Petersburg Times. After months of waiting for the land-use findings on housing for the homeless, a 20-page report recommended that the county deny Catholic Charities’ request to build housing.
The community of Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa has been working with the Diocese of St. Petersburg to help create what was going to be called Hillsborough Cares. This village for the homeless was to be similar to the diocese’s other facility, Pinellas Hope in Pinellas County.
The recommendation from the land-use hearing was disappointing and frustrating since so many parishioners worked long and hard to advance the project. They have attended hearings on zoning regulations, lobbied government officials, and networked in the community. They have also contacted a zoning lawyer to plead the case, and talked to potential donors for financial support. Parishioners have sought out doctors, lawyers and other professionals to offer services once the project eventually gets started.
The article further read: “Unless commissioners create an exception to housing standards, (land use officer James) Scarola noted that there is not currently a process in Hillsborough County that fits the building of such a facility.”
The diocese will review the report and consider the next steps. In Pinellas County, the commissioners allowed Pinellas Hope to be built on land the diocese owned, and the facility has been a great success. It provides food, shelter, bathrooms, a secure place for possessions and employment assistance.
In the county, the number of homeless people is nearing 10,000, so the need for housing is great.
— Fr. Andrew is pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Tampa.