South Shore Chamber committee initiates homeless outreach in the community
By LOIS KINDLE
More than 100 volunteers and representatives from an estimated 35 state, city and county agencies, nonprofit organizations, area businesses and a local church recently gave their time and resources to homeless folks living in South Shore.
The highly organized Homeless Outreach took place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 16 at Bell Shoals Church in Apollo Beach. Hosted by the church, the event was coordinated by the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department, Northside Mental Health and Brandon Elks Club, which came to the community at the chamber’s request. Its Homeless Initiative Committee attended a recent outreach in Palm River and requested a similar event be held in South Shore. It was to be the first of its kind.
Melanie Davis, the chamber’s executive director, and two other chamber representatives went into the community for weeks, meeting with homeless folks in the area and passing out fliers inviting them to attend. They were also given information on free transportation.
“We established five pickup points where the Sunshine Line bus would pick them up and bring them to the event,” she said. “We had no idea how many would actually show up, but we were hopeful we’d get a good turnout.”
They did. Sixty-five homeless folks came to see what the outreach offered in the way of resources for making their lives more livable. They had no obligation to accept anything, but many did, Davis said.
“Regardless of the reason why they’re on the street, it’s heartbreaking to see how they live,” she continued. “You never know where you’re going to be in life. Our goal for this event was not to end homelessness. That’s not going to happen. What we did was to show these people kindness and to offer help in some way.
“After all, this is our community, and we share it with them,” Davis said.
Fringe Benefits Salon owner Amanda Marrero and three of her stylists took time off from work to volunteer and provide free haircuts at the outreach.
“It’s just wonderful to see so many companies, organizations and community members come together to meet the needs of these people,” Marrero said.
All of the homeless were offered a free meal and shower, as well. They could also receive clothing, shoes, personal hygiene items, Bibles and more by visiting a required number of tables first, which were stamped to show they had participated. COVID-19 vaccinations, flu shots, wound care and various health screenings were also available.
Organizations represented at the event included Tampa Crossroads, Florida Department of Health and Alcoholic Anonymous; Phoenix House, Hispanic Services Council and Suncoast Community Health Center; Bags of Brotherly Love, Hillsborough County Pet Resources and Salvation Army Red Shield; DACCO Behavioral Health, Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Community Pet Project; Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department and Gracepoint; Hillsborough County Mobile DMV, Veteran’s Administration and many more.
Master Deputy Stephanie Krager, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office’s year-old Behavioral Resources Unit, started the agency’s Homeless Initiative in 2013. Initially, it had two deputies, and today there is one for each district. She is its team leader.
“Working with these people on a daily basis, we realized they weren’t getting access to resources to get them off the street, if that’s what they choose,” Krager said. “We focus on people deep in the woods who are usually mentally ill, have substance abuse problems or developmental issues.
“We give them a hand up, not a handout,” she added. “We want them to get what they need to succeed.”
Church officials were delighted by how the event went, said Dee Fridella, its community outreach coordinator.
“(The event) was such a phenomenal success,” she said. “Everyone enjoyed it, including the homeless, many of whom asked if we could do it again.
“We felt very blessed to be asked to host this.”