EMMA LAZARUS LIVES IN TAMPA
This morning’s 5-2 decision by the Hillsborough County Commission to allow Catholic Charities to open a second site for the homeless in the bay area (Pinellas Hope has been function for almost two years now) is something just short of miraculous. Until this morning there had been scant indications that the Commissioners would support a new temporary housing for the homeless on the only site in Hillsborough County which the diocese might be able to use for this purpose. The news media had reported correctly on the opposition of the residents to the plan, the negative decisions of two regulatory bodies or persons who make recommendations to the Commission about such things, and the seemingly endless uphill challenge of gaining support for the project. Yet hope springs eternal in the minds and hearts of our Catholic Charities Leadership and they never gave up.
The Hillsborough Commission today voted to instruct the staff to change the language which would allow our Pinellas Hope approach of temporary housing (tents to be specific) to be copied on the Hillsborough site. We screen every applicant, police the place literally with off-duty police, assist the homeless in securing the benefits to which they are entitled (Pinellas Hope has been an education to me in how often our Veterans do not know what is available to them in assistance), help them find jobs and most especially provide a safe and secure place for them to live temporarily. Meals have been supplied by countless Church and other groups (the Allegany Franciscan Sisters, for one example, have cooked and served several times in Pinellas Hope) and access to medical attention is also provided as needed. The powerful fusion of public and private support has given lift and life to our presence among the homeless. It is precisely where I think our Church needs to position itself to the care for the “homeless masses yearning to breathe free.”
This is just the beginning step but very significant. I wish to pay special tribute and appreciation to the editorial boards of THE TAMPA TRIBUNE and THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES for their well researched, well-reasoned, and well-spoken advocacy for Hillsborough Cares. In my judgment, they made a huge difference in the outcome of today’s discussion. It is my prayer and my hope that Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg will soon be able to join Metropolitan Ministries and the Salvation Army and the other organizations who work for and with the homeless. Earlier I mentioned that today’s vote was near miraculous. Well if Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta is in need of one more miracle for sanctity, I would be happy to offer today’s happenings.