By Amanda Boston
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17) On Tuesday, January 31 at Bay Life’s Chapel on Martin Luther King Blvd, the love of God propagated conjointly with the spirit of gratitude as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), Tampa Police Department (TPD) and local community united for a homeless outreach.
The Chapel’s parking lot temporarily transformed into a “one-stop shop” of community resource tables dispensing clothing, hot meals, housing assistance, health-screenings, vaccinations, backpacks, haircuts, identification cards, toiletry bags and Bibles. More than 100 homeless individuals registered for services and received necessities. In addition to the abundance of material resources, the atmosphere was fragrant with love, encouragement and hope.
In 2010, HCSO began the Homeless Initiative with only one deputy. Today, the program consists of five deputies whose mission is to assist the homeless with obtaining identification, food and clothing, healthcare, mental health care, substance abuse help and permanent housing. Joshua Boyer, a deputy with the Homeless Initiative spearheaded the outreach. “Our main goal is to see the homeless get off the street. It’s good to give them clothes and food, but that is just the band-aide. We need to give them the services they need for a long-term solution,” explained Boyer.
Randi Whitney, a homeless liaison officer for TPD considers herself an urban camper travel agent. “We try to get them (the homeless) connected with resources. I don’t have housing or resources, but I can help by navigating them to those services. We all work together. That’s the way to get things done—by bringing organizations and communities together,” explained Whitney.
The Brandon Elks Lodge, Brandon Moose Lodge and Salvation Army combined forces and resources to distribute 200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot meals, toiletry bags, blankets and clothing. Bob Blair, an officer of the Elks Lodge said, “I am now retired, and my wife and I donate all the time we can to help out the homeless.”
Thirty-eight years ago, Blair was homeless and sleeping in his car. He held a job, but was unable to afford housing. Thankfully, a co-worker discovered his plight and offered him room and board. Blair attributed his comeback to his co-worker’s kindness and support. He continued, “I know what it takes to bring the dignity back to the homeless…That’s why I jumped in with both feet. I get a little misty just seeing the outpouring of help the homeless get at these events.”
The next Homeless Initiative outreach is on Tuesday, March 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Target Plaza by Bruce B Downs Blvd. and Fletcher Ave. If you or your organization would like to get involved, contact Deputy Boyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the HCSO Homeless Initiative, visit its Facebook page at HCSO Homeless Initiative.