In the Tampa-Hillsborough area, approximately 1,650 men, women and children are homeless. These are individuals who are sleeping in cars, on the streets or in transitional housing and shelters.
In 2010, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) enacted the Homeless Initiative to help solve this issue and partnered with various social service agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations. A deputy is assigned to five different districts and works with the local community to find long-term solutions.
In addition to the daily interactions, the HCSO and Tampa Police Department partner with local churches and organizations to hold quarterly outreaches. On June 18, Nativity Catholic Church of Brandon opened up its campus to serve 150 homeless people. The homeless were bussed in, walked or were transported by deputies.
“The homeless population in our area is growing, and there are no shelters in Eastern Hillsborough County to help these individuals,” explained Bonnie Ussery, the director of Pastoral Care at Nativity. “I see them (homeless) come through Pastoral Care on a weekly basis. Much of the homeless population is affected by alcoholism, drug abuse and mental health issues, which need to be the emphasis for help.”
To pull off this event, Nativity employed an army of parish volunteers to transform its social hall and parking lot into a ‘one-stop shop’ of community resources. From basic necessities to bicycles, the outreach event involved close to 80 different types of social services where individuals could receive toiletries, health-screenings, immunizations, haircuts, clothing items, food, showers, housing assistance and spiritual counseling.
Kathy Damico, one of the organizers of outreach and the financial administrative assistant at Nativity, commented, “It (the outreach) was well-organized, and it brought me joy, and I’m sure that my coworkers will agree, that we were part of this remarkable event ministering to those in need.”
The outreach not only offered short-term relief such as a home-cooked spaghetti dinner prepared by Nativity volunteers, but also presented long-term solutions by connecting individuals with mental health help and housing assistance.
Ussery continued, “We do ministries like this at Nativity for the glory of God, and we are blessed to have parishioners who are so supportive.”
Visit its Facebook page at HCSO Homeless Initiative or firstname.lastname@example.org.