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Tampa group wants to build daytime refuge for homeless

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

People who are homeless have a fairly decent array of shelter options available to them in Tampa. For those who truly want it, they can usually find a place to lay their head safely each night.

But what most people don’t realize is, they get kicked out of those shelters each and every morning – very early. For the rest of the day, until it’s time to find another bed, there’s not really many places for them to go.

And in Tampa it’s particularly difficult to stay out of trouble during those long daytime hours due to a law that bans people from storing their belongings in public.

That results in hundreds and often thousands of homeless individuals wandering through the streets of Tampa with nowhere to go.

Adolphus Parker is trying to change that. He’s the president of the group Homeless Helping Homeless. What the name suggests is truly what the organization does. The nonprofit is run and operated by homeless clients.

Those clients accrue credit for volunteering and use those credits to receive shelter space at the facility on 106 Nebraska Avenue.

Now Parker wants to launch a nearby “café” in which he hopes to provide meals, activities and even services for the homeless.

The idea is to mimic a café the group operated for 18 months before closing up due to budgetary restraints in 2011. The café was open seven days a week from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. in order to serve as a refuge for homeless who otherwise had nowhere to go.

More than 3,000 people were fed per month. Those individuals were not only given a meal, they were also given access to showers, laundry and storage for personal items.

There were also phones, fax and Internet available for use to aid in helping individuals find work.

The facility also had five TVs and a pool table.

A new facility would include similar features. Parker already has architectural renderings of a facility, but he has nowhere to build it and no funds to see the project through.

Parker said he anticipates a six-month to year-long campaign to garner support for the project and from there he said fundraising efforts can officially kickoff.

“No one would have been buying into the idea of what I was selling as far as homeless people controlling an organization,” Parker said. “I never really had the support. People are intrigued, but financially it wasn’t really there.”

If successful, Parker said the café would need to be close to downtown Tampa, where a majority of the city’s homeless congregate.

The organization has struggled with funding and even faces foreclosure on one of its two remaining properties. The original Homeless Café was sold off last year.

The group currently relies on a couple of venture businesses for income, including a junk removal company and staffing service. They bring a majority of income in from a thrift store.

The group previously relied on manning concession stands at Raymond James Stadium and Tropicana Field, but those contracts were severed.

In addition to providing shelter to homeless, the group also funds replacing birth certificates so people can get identification to aid in finding a job and housing.

Parker said the group would like to seek out grants to help fund services, but they are in a Catch 22. In order to apply for grant money the organization needs a professional audit. But to get the audit they need funds.

An audit, Parker said, costs about $5,500 – money he said they simply can’t spare.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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