More than 4,200 homeless people have stayed at Pinellas Hope since it opened three years ago. [Photo:Cherie Diez/St. Petersburg Times]
On the afternoon of Jan. 19, 2007, St. Petersburg police swarmed a makeshift encampment for the homeless near downtown, rousting the residents and slashing their tents with box cutters and scissors. The effort to rid the city of its worsening homeless problem instead attracted embarrassing nationwide attention and spurred the creation of Pinellas Hope, a community-supported homeless shelter where up to 250 people live in tents and shed-sized wooden structures.
The complex, initially nicknamed Tent City, is located on 13 acres bordered by a highway, industrial land and a cemetery in northern Pinellas County. The parcel is owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which also administers the project. An initial $500,000 donation by Harry Stonecipher, a retired St. Petersburg businessman, helped get Pinellas Hope started. Now, the shelter operates on a $2.5-million annual budget, funded in part by state and local governments. The rest of the money, accounting for nearly half of the budget, is raised through private donations.
Pinellas Hope took a significant step this fall, opening a $4.3-million, 80-unit "transitional housing" apartment complex for the homeless. Paid for with state and local funds, the addition includes a community center, dining facilities and bathrooms.
"All of the residents are responsible for doing something," Lopez says. "We don't have a maintenance staff. We don't have a kitchen staff. Our residents are our maintenance staff and our kitchen staff. We're looking for results. We're looking for them to be active. We're looking for them to become self-sufficient."