I appreciate the balance that Christopher O’Donnell sought to bring to this article in today’s Tampa Bay Times. This is not a neighborhood issue, it’s a community issue.

Alongside more than 10,000 other volunteers, I have gotten to know these neighbors and guests by name. Until we as a community invest resources to address housing more of our homeless neighbors, we will be dealing with a double-edged issue of housing and hunger.

For our 1,800+ homeless neighbors in Tampa, we need three things that take resources:

  1. Housing
  2. Health care
  3. Quality of life

This issue affects both sides of Tampa Bay, as there are more than 3,000 homeless in Pinellas County as well. It costs approximately $40,000 to house a homeless person. It costs 2-3 times as much in health care costs alone to treat many of the homeless who go in and out of emergency rooms ($100-$120K annually), not to mention the added law enforcement, judicial and correctional costs.

We need more housing for the 800+ unsheltered homeless neighbors in Tampa and more affordable housing solutions. There are only 1,000 beds on any given night, and they are almost always at capacity. That leaves at least 800+ unsheltered every single day.

We also need an investment in housing for health and more resources for counseling and case management for these neighbors. Housing for health and federally qualified health centers are integrated into housing developments to support the community health needs, as well as to provide the vital, health care and permanent support of counseling, case management and health care that are needed for many of our neighbors. Health department dollars are being diverted to house for health.

Our homeless neighbors need to be able to improve their quality of life with resources like basic necessities such as a daily meal, bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, computers, employment assistance and connections to housing and healthcare.

What might this look like in Tampa where there are an estimated 1,700-2,000 homeless individuals?

$40,000 x 2,000 = $80 MILLION
5 years = $16 MILLION per year
10 years = $8 MILLION per year

How can we not afford to scale this model in our own community?

Christina, Ariana & Tut

“We take the bus here on Saturdays and Sundays so we can see our friends. Ariana loves it here so much. For her birthday, she was supposed to go off with her dad to McDonald’s, but she said, “My friends are at Trinity. I don’t want to go to McDonald’s – drop me off at Trinity.” She even spent her birthday money for bus fare when I didn’t have enough to get us all here. We have a two-bedroom apartment in West Tampa. I’m a full-time mom now. I went through some bad times but I’ve been clean for 26 months. I had another baby and I had to give him up for adoption, so he’s with a nice family in Clearwater. My 12-year-old is in Kentucky. Ariana understands people are hungry and homeless. She makes me take our food stamps to the convenience store and buy treats for our friends who eat here, because she knows they don’t have any food. She wants to help them. In an essay for school she wrote about how she likes to help the homeless by making them laugh. She wants to volunteer at Trinity when she’s 16.”

For our 200,000 neighbors who struggle with not knowing where their next meal is coming from, we can solve hunger by getting resources to those who need them. Hunger and food insecurity affects our neighbors, friends, children, people you know at church, the store and in your office. One in 7 struggle with hunger, and one in 4 are children.

Let’s come together as a community and put our city, county and federal dollars together alongside the independent sector, rally our nonprofit organizations to collaborate and secure donors who will invest in solving homelessness and hunger in our city.

We want our city, urban core and entire community transformed. Let’s end homelessness in our city and ensure no one is homeless or hungry.

At Trinity Cafe, we strive to restore dignity to the homeless and hungry while serving a nutritious meal. We also strive to be a good neighbor.

Join us daily at a meal as we serve our neighbors, help us walk the Nebraska Ave corridor to clean it up, or join us for one of our monthly neighborhood cleanups. You’ll see a friend, a neighbor, and no longer a nameless homeless or hungry man, woman or child.

I welcome the day when we can close our shelters, charitable restaurants and soup kitchens that serve the homeless and hungry. Until that day happens, though, I encourage you to be part of the solution and advocate for solutions in our community that benefit all of us.

Mandy Cloninger, CFRE
Executive Director, Trinity Cafe