Florida tent city offers hope to homeless

Tue Jun 16, 2009 8:55pm EDT
 
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By Robert Green

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida tent city for hundreds of homeless people lies at the end of a dead-end street, but residents say they have not given up hope of a better life despite the U.S. economic downturn.

The Pinellas Hope camp, 250 single-person tents in neat rows on land owned by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg in a wooded area north of the city, has room for about 270 and has been filled to capacity since it opened two years ago.

"I could open the gates and have over 500 people," said Sheila Lopez, the chief operating officer for Catholic Charities at the St. Petersburg diocese.

The camp has a food hall, bathrooms and showers, a laundry room and a few computers for residents to look for jobs and prepare resumes.

"This is a great place to be. It gives us a great opportunity," said Alex, a resident who declined to give his last name. "We have a safe place to live. It sure beats sleeping on the street."

The number of homeless people in the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, is difficult to pin down, advocacy groups say, because most people are homeless for only a short period of time.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates about 675,000 people are homeless on any given night during a one-month period. Between 2.5 million and 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness for at least one night in a year.

The alliance said it expects more than 1 million people to become homeless as a result of the current recession.   Continued...

 
<p>Buddy sits outside his tent at the tent city homeless community, known as Pinellas Hope in Pinellas Park, Florida June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>