Tiny Homes, Big Impact Tampa's Homeless Finally Settle In After Delays

Tiny Homes, Big Impact: Tampa’s Homeless Finally Settle In After Delays

TAMPA: Nestled on a sun-drenched lot, among the industrial sprawl of Tampa’s eastern fringe, are 99 small white homes nestled between the freeway and railroad tracks.

These 64-square-foot, air-conditioned buildings with fold-out mattresses were put together as temporary homes for the homeless in April of last year. To get the project started, the city of Tampa contributed $750,000.

However, the tiny houses were abandoned for a full year.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a nonprofit started subtly relocating the first residents this month.

Louis Ricardo, a spokesman for the nonprofit organization that runs the Tampa Hope project in the city, Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg, responded to an email asking when residents started relocating to the cottages, saying, “I’m not sure.”

Ricardo responded, “I am not certain,” when asked how many cottages are occupied at the moment. We will definitely keep filling them in the coming weeks.

It is more likely that those now residing in Tampa Hope’s 125 tents are being given priority for the shift to the cottages, according to Ricardo, even though some may have been moved off the streets and into the recently opened dwellings.

The project faced “the same timeline challenges all construction projects face,” he added, including supply-chain disruptions, delays in getting permits, and difficulty finding contractors.

Tiny Homes, Big Impact Tampa's Homeless Finally Settle In After Delays (1)

Is there another reason for the delay? Installing the electricity grid in the cottages.

According to a city official, in order to complete the task, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor had to give a call to Tampa Electric’s CEO.

In a recent interview with the Times, Castor expressed frustration over the delays. “But Tampa Hope is an excellent asset to our community.”

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Homelessness is affecting a record number of people in America: Last year’s annual count by the federal government showed the greatest number of individuals without homes since the count’s inception in 2007. The shortage of affordable housing is a major contributing factor to the growth in homelessness across the nation and in the Tampa Bay area. Until last year, Florida policymakers generally disregarded this issue.

To combat the issue of homelessness in areas “plagued” by it, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis passed legislation last month outlawing individuals from spending the night in parks, on sidewalks, and other public areas.

The bill provides a framework for counties to establish camps with security, sanitization, and health services, like Tampa Hope. Some who oppose the bill claim that it does not address the underlying causes of homelessness or provide the required money for long-term solutions. Last month, officials from Citrus County visited the Tampa location as a potential model.

Castor gave a call to Maggie Rogers, the CEO of Catholic Charities, in March 2020.

Rogers, who the nonprofit claimed was unavailable for an interview for this article, stated at a recent forum on homelessness in Hillsborough County, “She asked how to serve the homeless and how to do it very, very quickly.”

They collaborated to establish Hillsborough Hope, a makeshift shelter on Florida Avenue that would provide three meals a day to one hundred individuals.

In a little over a week, the shelter was assembled. Bushes and shrubs were trimmed. We sprayed insect repellent over the area. Connections for water and electricity were installed. Floodlights were erected temporarily. In less than two days, the beds were occupied.

The group then searched for a plot of land to construct a permanent shelter for more than a year.

They located it on Tampa’s Third Avenue. Property records show that they paid $2.1 million for the site in late 2021.

Together with the NGO, city officials announced the shelter’s opening in December of that year. They projected that 100 cottages—of which 75 were supported by the city—would be constructed by the end of 2022, with additional units to follow.

Not until last spring were the cottages put together.

At that time, the city stated that it anticipated having the electrical system installed by autumn 2023.

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That was only this last month.

Electrical inspectors’ final inspections were delayed, the city claimed, by finishing permitting drawings and burying electrical connections underground to prevent trip hazards.

A representative for Tampa Electric, Cherie Jacobs, stated that the firm didn’t receive the required release from the city until the evening of April 1, allowing the electrical work to be finished.

Tampa Electric usually needs seven to ten business days to finish the job after receiving a release, according to an email Jacobs sent to the Times.

Jacobs commented, “We went above and beyond to complete the work in two days.”

99 villas have been connected and grounded so far to withstand winds up to Category 5 hurricane force. According to Ricardo, the organization representative, one villa is set aside for fundraising activities.

According to Ricardo, contractors were confronted with a scarcity of personnel and “very long lead times for equipment.”

According to him, the NGO started relocating residents into the cottages this month after the electrical inspectors gave their all.

A bed, heating and cooling, power outlets, a fire extinguisher, a smoke detector, shelves, windows, and storage space are all included in each cottage. Tampa Bay Street Medicine from the University of South Florida frequently conducts a free medical clinic at Tampa Hope.

The project is referred to as Rogers’ “2-year-old baby.”

“It’s about learning how to walk,” she stated during the county’s most recent homelessness conference. “That is not where it should be and it is not where it is going to end up.”

She said that the property currently includes a single permanent facility that serves as a computer lab, dining hall, intake room, office space, and classroom.

It’s a little bit of everything, according to her.

The group is planning on growing the complex in the future, with plans to add more tiny homes and create a new structure with kitchens, laundry rooms, and showers. Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat from St. Petersburg whose district includes portions of East Tampa, made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain $1.5 million from the state to build 100 more cottages during the most recent legislative session.

Pinellas Hope, another facility run by Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg, is located in Clearwater. It was established 17 years ago on a former marsh and has grown into a sizable shelter for the homeless that assists thousands of individuals in getting off the streets and into social assistance. The Times previously revealed that its $2.1 million annual budget is made up of a combination of tax revenue and donations.

On a recent morning in Tampa, the shelter sprang to life as the sun rose above the city’s far-off high-rises, their windows flashing in the early light. Locals either rode their bicycles to work or waited for a carpool to pass by on the side of the road.

A queue stretched out in front of the main gate as more individuals arrived in the hopes of finding a bed.

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