As if really necessary, another reminder was provided as to why Pinellas Hope, Catholic Charities’ emergency homeless shelter for 250 men and women located in Pinellas Park, has embarked on a $1.5 million fundraising initiative to transition from its current tents to Hope Cottages™ for its residents.
In the early hours of June 7th Tropical Storm Colin, with winds approaching 60 mph, destroyed over 70 tents and damaged nearly 50 more. As quoted by the Tampa Bay Times1, many residents who stayed put throughout the night and described their experience: Debbie Pagel, 53, describing a whooshing sound recounted: “’And we’reunderneath tree, so I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, tree branches are going to fall on me. Please Lord, don’t let a big branch come down.’’” Said Will Cook, 47, “’A couple times it rained so hard you couldn’t hardly see.’” “’It’s devastating, we lost a lot of stuff,” said Charles Hager. “We tried to salvage as much as we could.’”
Many residents who left their tents for the relative warmth and safety of the shelter’s permanent buildings (a communal meeting and dining hall) returned to find their tents destroyed, flooded or badly damaged as well as many of their personal belongings ruined. According to Pam Long, Director of Homeless and Veterans Services, the damages could reach $10,000. “The tents alone will cost us nearly $5,000 even with the number we’ve had donated by caring community members.”
Hope Cottages would have made this a non-event. Built from repurposed 20-foot steel shipping containers, they are made to withstand Category 4 Hurricane winds and are raised off the ground eliminating flooding as another concern. Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, said, “If you had Hope Cottages you would not have the anxiety over the tents, and you wouldn’t have the anxiety over the flood,” he said. “There’s no water, they’re secured, they’re comfortable, they’re air-conditioned.”
Most amazingly, while the community pitched in with donations of tents, mats (used as beds by the residents), and sundry items (blankets, toiletries, etc.), the residents themselves stepped up to repair the damage. Two teams of 5-7 male residents teamed together with Pinellas Hope maintenance staff assisting and supplying tools, to replace all the ruined tents. As the rain and clouds made way for the Florida sun, the cool, damp conditions quickly turned to oppressive humidity and heat. Battling the sun and heat and often working in 1-2 feet of standing water and deep mud, with ants biting their feet, ankles and legs, the teams worked all day from sunrise ‘til sunset to replace all 70 tents!
A great debt of gratitude is owed to those heroic resident-volunteers who worked tirelessly for their fellow residents, including the following although many chose to remain anonymous:
Samuel (Sammy) Hunsberger then a 3 week resident of Pinellas Hope hailing from Pennsylvania;
Danny Summa from Conneticut and a Pinellas Hope resident for only 1 month;
Claude Cochran also a resident of Pinellas Hope for only 1 month;
Hector Vega, a native Puerto Rican who had been at Pinellas Hope for only 1 week;
Charlie Nguygen, born in Okinawa, Japan and a 2-month resident of Pinellas Hope;
Terry who had been at Pinellas Hope for just 2 ½ weeks; and
Ken Arnenam, a native of Brooklyn, NY, who was a 2-month resident of Pinellas Hope
Max Johnson, while not anonymous, let his actions speak for him!
“Their help honestly was priceless. We could not have done it alone.”, said Danielle Corbin, Pinellas Hope camp manager. She further added, “We all needed to pull together. I was amazed as to how many people helped.”
Just a few months later, many of the same men were back at work replacing the additional 60 tents that were destroyed by Hurricane Hermine. The damage merely served to further underscore the need to transition from as many tents as possible to the new Hope Cottages! “Hope Cottages are the answer to this recurring problem. We’re making progress in funding the fifty that have been approved, but it can’t be fast enough”, said Lou Ricardo, Marketing & Development Director.
Regardless, it truly is a proud and pivotal moment when those in need rise up to help themselves, for then they are on the path to self-reliance and independent living!
1 – http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/70-tents-at-pinellas-hope-destroyed-by-tropical-storm-colin/2280629