Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Follow Up on Pinellas Hope

I recently received an e-mail that confirmed my skepticism in a previous post about my visit to Pinellas Hope.  The story highlights the dangers of institutionalizing tent cities, where horizontal organization is replaced with top-down style management.



"The City of St. Petersburg decided that the homeless were to be treated like the plague, in that they urinated in public, bothered people by panhandling, and blocked access to "legitimate" business concerns. The homeless had loosely organized a city of tents under a highway overpass with the blessing of the landowners, the St. Vincent DePaul Society. So rather than address the problem, the city decided to get rid of them by slashing their tents to the ground. This was big news around here, as the action was so brutal. The government excuse was that they were cooking in their tents, which created a fire hazard. So one morning, the Police Dept. came by with box cutters and slashed the tents at the base, leaving only the floor behind, with their possessions exposed. What was not stolen was thrown in the trash by lunchtime by city sanitation workers. Many of the residents were also minimum wage workers, and at their jobs that day...



Less than a week later, Catholic Charities declared to the news media that they had vacant land situated "up-county" near some electric power lines that was not being used, and through their benevolence, they would open Project Hope. It was a public relations coup, and I applauded their efforts. I was motivated by the events to volunteer my services to help out in any way that I was needed. I went to the site, and like you, I was turned away, as they operated under a cloak of secrecy. I was particularly impressed with how much they had done in that one week. Most of the facilities you outlined in your blog were operational in that one week's time. There is no way they organized and got that work done in a week, so there began my wondering at the motives of Catholic Charities. I was referred to a website where I had to complete an application that was extensive. I had not been made to volunteer such in-depth personal information, since I applied for my Secret security clearance when I was in the military. I was screened and had background checks done. Fellow members of my church had even been questioned by a private investigator.

I showed up for my first day of work, and quickly became disenchanted with Catholic Charities. Faith based rehabilitation is big business in Florida, and Catholic Charities was given a huge grant to operate the tent city. However, the grant money was directly tied to successful results. How they obtained residents was a joke, in and of itself. They picked families first, (naturally, as I would have done) and then the sorting began. The screening process begins when someone is picked up by the St.Pete Police for panhandling. They are driven there after checking for outstanding warrants. If there is any hint of a criminal historty of any kind, including arrests without conviction, they are not accepted. The same applies for any kind of treatment for mental illness. In fact, the only ones accepted for residency are responsible members of the community who have fallen on hard times. I understand this and agree with the concept to help those who can be helped first.

However, then I found out that the motives were strictly money oriented. They needed responsible people to boost their success rate and qualify for additional funding. Make no mistake, that place is run like a business, and the business model is based on privately run jails, or corporate "institutions". This would not be such a bad thing, except that many homeless people are homeless due to mental health issues, substance abuse problems, or a criminal background, regardless if they have repaid their debt to society. We used to call it "cooking the books", and while it is not illegal, it is highly unethical, especially for a religious organization. 

Later I would find out that Catholic Charities are in direct competition with the St. Vincent DePaul Society for funding of programs to benefit the disadvantaged. Today, I volunteer at the St. Vincent DePaul Society, on the same site that the tenst were slashed away in the morning. They have built a home and call it "City of Hope", as an obvious reference to the tent city run by Pinellas Hope. However, I have reduced the hours of volunteer work there, after learning the difference between religious business and the business of religion..."

- Jimmy M.

11 comments:

  1. Thank you for . They want to build Camp modeled like Pinellas Hope Project her in Indian River county called camp haven . I am very skeptical and i think its all about money. Im curious however how it has effected the local businesses surrounding it . I own a small business near the location and I am worried about the effects it will have on my business. I myself don't want to be Homeless with our economy anything that would hurt my business might cause it to fail .

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  2. caring for homeless people and making a profit from such activity is disgusting. homeless people need shelter and privacy so that they can determine how best to live their lives. helping them is wonderful, but not so that the helper can get money or any other type of recompense.

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  3. I am an ex- resident of Pinellas Hopeless of Pinellas park and I agree with this summation. I lived there for seven months and I saw how they ran it. It is more like a concentration camp for the homeless minus the killing. They did nothing for me and I was forced to leave.

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  4. I'm so sorry that I have just read this article that has been posted for so long with such blatant misinformation. I have been involved with this program since its inception. We do not work "under a cloak of secrecy" but we do provide these services confidentially. If you want to know the services that are offered, and how they are provided, the website clearly lists that information. Being that this facility is run by Catholic Charities, which is part of the Catholic Diocese, means that the background checks are rather lengthy and very necessary. The information, not to mention the people, that volunteers (such as yourself, sir) come in contact with is very sensitive and we need to know you are of good character and that your heart is in the right place. It is also imperative to know that you are not a criminal or sex offender. Once you qualify as a volunteer for Catholic Charities, you are also qualifying as a volunteer for the ENTIRE Diocese, including churches and schools, where you'd have access to children. Now, you can't even argue that is a bad thing, and if you try to - well, I’d like to know why. We do not have, nor can we afford to hire a "private investigator" for potential volunteers. That, sir, is just a lie. An ugly one, too. We also did not “pick families first” unfortunately we don’t even accept families…only single or married adults. It is typically the way shelters are run, you either house families or individuals for reasons that should be pretty obvious to someone that considers himself to be so intelligent and superior. Just about every person that comes through the gate at Pinellas Hope has some sort of criminal record, or mental illness. It’s unfortunate but true. The only people we do not accept, sir, are people with a CONVICTION of a violent crime including rape, and people with pending warrants. The people with violent backgrounds are referred to other facilities that are developed specifically to house and assist people with those kinds of criminal backgrounds. And, for reasons that should be obvious, we cannot house people that have warrants for arrest. We do however make an arrangement to accept them once they have served their time and as long as they do not have a violent criminal record. We have to do this in order to protect the people living at Pinellas Hope. A large majority of the homeless population has mental illness and criminal backgrounds, do you really think we could have that facility loaded to capacity with “saints” that have just - how did you put it - “fallen on hard times”? You must really rethink your position on that. As far as this being something that is strictly money oriented, I assure you that this program brings NO PROFIT to the agency whatsoever. Every penny of funding goes to the operational cost and direct services for clients. This is not a money maker, the facility provides case management, financial counseling, AA and NA meetings daily, transportation, resume building, daily meals, access to medical and dental care, assistance in obtaining lost documentation, support for homeless veterans, a library, computer access for job searches, and access to a wide array of services provided by Catholic Charities’ other programs, just to name a few. Catholic Charities also does not compete with SVDP, and in fact collaborates with them as well as all the other local nonprofits in the area. If you were truly involved with SVDP as you say you are, you would know that. You would know a lot more if you stopped talking and started listening. Your words are venomous and cancerous. You sir, are the problem and not in any way part of a solution.

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  5. Maybe I can lend a little insight as a former resident. I lived at Pinellas Hope from February-July of 2012. It made me laugh to think that maybe I was one of those "saints." Within a span of 6 years I had lost my husband, my job, my savings, my health, my place to live and most of my belongings. I was 57.
    I went through Pinellas County Emergency Mental Health Services who helped get me into Pinellas Hope. Intake is only once a week. You take a breath and urine test, and they run a background check. A few walked away,while others were led away in cuffs. Those remaining were told how the place was run and the rules were clearly outlined. You are asked to sign a written copy that you understand and agree to abide by said rules; I still have mine.
    There were never any families at this facility when I was there. Catholic Charities had other programs for them.Oh, "St Vinny's" works hand in hand with "Tent City." Quite a few residents left PH to go to work for SVDP. There were, however, convicted felons (just not those with violent crimes), addicts and alcoholics.No drugs, alcohol or weapons were allowed on premises and you weren't allowed in if you were high or drunk. No one, be they staff, visitor, volunteer or resident, could verbally/physically/sexually abuse another. I saw folks asked to leave--quickly and permanently. There was a curfew; those who worked nights were exempt. You had tobacco smoking areas; your tent was not one of them. Cell phones, radios, etc were turned off or ear plugs used at night so others could sleep. Quite a few people did work, or were in the process of finding jobs.
    I was thrilled I had my own tent.10' sq x 6'h, with a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag and a lockable bin. Those with medical issues were given a garden shed bolted onto a concrete pad. The elements do come into play. When it got cold a week later, they brought out propane heaters, gloves, hats, blankets and hot coffee. It does get very cold in west central Florida in the winter. There were 2 Spring storms that wrecked a lot of the 360+ tents; including mine. They got replaced due to donations and volunteers.
    We became a community. Some helped the newbies by showing them the ropes. There were wolves in sheep's clothing feeding on lambs. And kindred spirits hooking up to score and to party. You get the drift.
    I was given a counselor and we hammered out a plan. I was applying for SSDI, which could take up to 2 years. I was given help navigating the system. I got a run at the "Clothes Closet" upon arrival. I hadn't had a new (lightly used) pair of shoes in over a year. There was a classroom, a library, a computer room, a TV tent, laundry area, men and women's restrooms with showers and the dining area. We are all asked to donate a few hours to chores each week, unless work or health prevented it. I initially cleaned the ladies rest room. Then I set out coffee and donated breakfast items two mornings a week from 4 am-9 am. And I loved it. I felt useful, which I hadn't in a long time.
    Some people just left during my 4.5 months there. Others got thrown out, mostly for breaking the rules. The people that worked there were just that--people, as were the residents. And I saw just about every slant of humanity while I was there. It was a real education.
    I now live with my adult son. I'm on SSDI and have had quite a few health issues that needed resolved. I'd like to go back to school so I can advocate for others who have fallen into homelessness. I have been interested in tiny affordable homes in urban centers as a viable housing alternative for a couple of years now. Including low income seniors. However, I believe that inaccurate reporting to support an opinion is ultimately self-defeating. Check your sources. Please.

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    1. P.s. a last thing I thought I would add, it says I will be seen as my boyfriend on the reply- but that is just because l am on his Kindle since my laptop got stolen. Would prefer to hear back, if you can through my Facebook. But if you reply to his, he will show it to me. Thanks.

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    2. Ok, it looks like my first response got lost in cyberspace...lol... don't know why. My name is Patti, we are about the same age. And I am waiting on my SSDI claim too for medical issues also. I will have to end up in Pinellas Hope for a little bit it seems. I was terrified at that thought, and then I saw your post. Could you visit me on my Facebook page, please. I really could use to talk to another woman who has been to that place. My Facebook is under my old email, which is sothislight@yahoo.com and my name is Patti Kelly. My current email is Patti.blue57@gmail.com, but really all I use is my Facebook. :-)

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  6. very informative to the lady above. thank you

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  7. Tent City has it's good points and it's bad points. I'm currently a resident, I've been here for 3 weeks. I also spent about a month here 5 years ago.
    Things that haven't changed: Tent City is located in a swamp. It's still a swamp. There are mud puddles after every rain that take weeks to dry up. The golf carts they use to drive around camp (for legitimate reasons) Carve out ruts in the paths and between the tents. I sprained my ankle in one of the many ruts about a week and a half ago. Just yesterday they filled the path in with mulch. That will work until the next time it rains.
    Things that have changed: Pinellas Hope now gets a grant to have Pinellas County Schools operate a "classroom" AKA computer lab here on the property. Residents are required to spend 10 hours a week here in the lab, for remedial learning, GED preparedness, job and housing searches. You would think this is a good thing, except for that mandatory 10 hours. I am on Disability. I have an income. I have a BS degree. I only need to find affordable housing. The information on low income housing rarely changes. I need to make phone calls, not sit on a computer pretending to be busy. (not looking at Facebook or even the news) Hopefully, this comment here will suffice as a legitimate use of my time.

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