Catholic Charities is introducing an innovative temporary shelter concept for the homeless residents of Pinellas Hope (5726 126th Ave. North, Clearwater, just south of Ulmerton west of 49th Street). These incredible units, branded Hope Cottages, provide a significant step-up in helping the homeless rebuild their lives. This exciting concept was conceived by Fr. Kevin Mackin, O.F.M., former President of St. Mary’s on the Mount and Siena Universties in New York and current parochial vicar of St. Raphael (Snell Isle) and member/chaplain of the Knights of Columbus St. Raphael Council 10157. Fr. Mackin’s idea to help the homeless of Pinellas Hope was quickly embraced by his fellow Knights, led by Grand Knight Jerry Sirgey and Chancellor Kevin Greeno.
What is a Hope Cottage? It is a 20-foot steel shipping container that was designed to be converted into a 3-room shelter for our Pinellas Hope residents. The design comes to life at Greeno Painting Services of St. Petersburg with the construction expertise of Coastal Alliance Group. These units provide residents with significant enhancements versus tents that experts believe result in an improved living experience that ultimately delivers improved outcomes for our homeless residents; namely, graduating from Pinellas Hope with a job and stable, permanent housing without returning to homelessness. These enhancements include improved:
- Safety – they are built to withstand Category 4 Hurricane winds (built to Miami-Dade building code)
- Privacy – individual rooms with a lockable, steel door with a security peephole, and an exterior light
- Comfort – air conditioned space, bed, LED (night) light, window, sealed to keep the bugs out
They are also obviously more durable than tents with a projected life expectancy of 30 – 50 years versus the average tent life of 11 – 12 months. Additionally, they are more cost effective versus tents. The annual depreciation expense for these units is a little over $29,000 ($17,500 over the 50 year life) whereas the average annual cost for tents and related items for replacement or repair is $40,000.
After the prototype, the first 4-unit grouping of Hope Cottages were constructed with an adjoining wood deck installed with lumber and supplies donated by Lowes Home Improvement Store #740. It was these units that Bishop Robert Lynch blessed on Thursday, April 7th, assisted by Jerry Sirgey, Grand Knight of the St. Raphael Council 10157 and accompanied by a Knights of Columbus Honor Guard. A group of sixty attended the emotional ceremony, including representatives from the city of St. Petersburg, the Mayor of Pinellas Park, the Pinellas Park Police Chief, the Homeless Leadership Board, the Knights of Columbus Council 10157, several nearby Catholic Parish Pastors and many others from government and non-profit social service groups and agencies.
Fr. Kevin Mackin, OFM gave the opening prayer for the Ceremonial Blessing. He was followed by Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, and speakers included Grand Knight Jerry Sirgey, Pam Long, director of homeless and veterans services at Catholic Charities and director of Pinellas Hope, Cliff Smith, manager of veteran, social and homeless services for St. Petersburg,
and Millicent Perry, a Pinellas Hope resident and one of the first to occupy a Hope Cottage.
Most notable was resident, Millicent Perry’s witness. She shared her story of leaving Pinellas Hope but being taken advantage of by “friends”, running out of money, and needing to find new housing only to be called out of the blue by Pinellas Hope rep, Gina Zeno who offered her a place to stay. Being ushered into one of the Cottages by Gina, Millicent thought she was entering a modular office to fill out paperwork. When Gina opened the door, she instead saw a bed, a light, and a window. As Gina welcomed her to her new residence she broke down in tears of joy. After her previous stay in the tent, this “cottage” was a welcome sight, but she was still a little incredulous.
“I just didn’t believe it at first,” she told the audience. Later in the evening, as she rested in her new room, she regarded the cross on the wall. “I said, ‘Jesus, am I worthy of this blessing?’ I sat down on the bed that night and I cried so hard because I couldn’t believe where I was. I couldn’t believe that I was being so blessed.”
She said she felt bad for the fellow residents who are still living in tents “but I knew I needed to keep my head up.” Soon other residents were occupying the other two rooms in the prototype. In a quite moment, Millie shared that living in a shelter that made her feel like a real person changed her attitude and soon thereafter she began studying to earn a certification in social work to help others. She said that something as simple as living in this unit as opposed to a tent, gave her hope for her future.
Finally, Bishop Lynch provided the blessing prayer preceded by eloquent remarks. Bishop Lynch was instrumental in the founding of Pinellas Hope in 2007, providing the land for the project and helping gather the coalition needed to bring the project to fruition in order to provide a home for as many of 300 – 400 of the homeless of Pinellas County. He spoke of this next phase in the evolution of the camp and the importance of not being satisfied with the status quo and the need to challenge ourselves to everything we can for those in our care, including providing the homeless with better living conditions than that afforded by tents. After the blessing prayer, Bishop Lynch proceeded to the deck of the Hope Cottages with the Knights Honor Guard standing at attention as he walked up the deck with aspergillum and aspersorium filled with holy water in hand to sprinkle the holy water on the cottages and into the rooms. He then appropriately – given their instrumental role in bringing this project to life – requested Grand Knight Jerry Sirgey also sprinkle holy water as his fellow Knights proudly looked on.
The Blessing ceremony doubled as the public unveiling of the project and the kick-off of our efforts to raise the $1.25 million needed to purchase the shipping containers and pay for the conversion of a total of 50 of them into Hope Cottages for 150 residents, replacing 150 tents! Anyone interested in contributing financially can go to www.ccdosp.org/hope-cottages or www.pinellashope.org/hope-cottages.