No shelter in Land O’ Lakes or Lutz
By Sarah Whitman
Special to The Laker/Lutz News
LAND O’ LAKES — When temperatures dropped to freezing this past week, many of the area’s homeless were left out in the cold. While emergency shelters opened in New Port Richey, Zephyrhills and downtown Tampa, none did in Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel or Lutz.
“I don’t know why there is no place to go around here,” said Elizabeth Fields, director of Suncoast Harvest Food Bank in Land O’ Lakes. “I don’t know if it’s because people are turning a blind eye or what, but we need more shelters, especially now when people are both cold and hungry.”
The Pasco Homeless Coalition reported more than 4,000 homeless living in the county as of April 2009. The nonprofit coalition works with county officials to provide shelter and housing. Still, little has been accomplished in central Pasco.
“I had people come ask me where they could go and I had no clue what to tell them,” Fields said. “Right now, I think people are just doing what they can to keep warm.”
Jim Martin, emergency management director for Pasco County, is working to improve the situation.
“About 70 percent of the county’s homeless are on the west side and we have shelters there,” he said. “We are working with the homeless coalition to come up with more sites. We still need shelters in San Antonio, Dade City and Land O’ Lakes.”
Rev. Dan Campbell, president of the coalition, worries about lack of requests for central Pasco shelters.
“We’ve been trying for a couple years to get a shelter in Land O’ Lakes, but it’s slow going,” he said. “One reason is we don’t have as many people in need out here and many of the people are sleeping in tents, so they don’t want to leave their tents. They worry about having their things taken.”
Lesa Weikel, community relations manager for the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, said a similar problem exists in north Tampa, including Lutz.
“Lack of shelters is a real issue,” she said. “Cold weather poses an added health risk to those struggling to make it outside.”
In Hillsborough, there are four cold weather shelters. Metropolitan Ministries and Salvation Army opened shelters near downtown on N. Florida Avenue. Additional facilities are in Brandon and Wimauma.
Keith Reiley, senior pastor at Community Chapel Church of God in Zephyrhills, operated a shelter during the winters of 2008 and 2009. He closed the site last year, citing a lack of turn out and community involvement.
“I only had one or two people coming at night, so it was hard to get community support,” he said. “We feed the homeless everyday at our church, but hardly any of them stayed the night with us when we were open.”
Frustrated, Reiley passed the cause on to Tim Mitchell, senior pastor at Chancey Road Christian Church. Mitchell partnered with Campbell and the Zephyrhills Samaritan Project to open a site at Chancey Road. The shelter went public the first week in January, but went unused.
“We’d open the doors at 6 p.m. and close up a couple hours later after no one showed up,” Mitchell said.
Last Thursday was the first time the facility stayed open overnight.
“We had a family of ten come and stay,” Mitchell said. “They were able to keep warm with all the blankets and pillows people have donated. The community has really reached out to help this time; we just need people to keep coming.”
Fields believes people in Land O’ Lakes would take advantage of a new shelter.
“There are a lot of people looking for a place to go,” she said. “We’ve had people here at the food bank, just sitting out by the dumpsters, and we let them stay. But they’d rather be inside.”
Suncoast Harvest Food Bank is in north Land O’ Lakes, located east of US 41 on Ehren Cutoff.
Presently, those seeking shelter and unable to find one nearby can call 911 for assistance. In Pasco, persons can also call United Way of Pasco at 211. In Zephyrhills, call (813) 810-8670 for shelter information.
Campbell encourages anyone in need to make a call. “Wherever they are, someone will try to help,” he said.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.