Metropolitan Ministries fights a growing homeless population in Tampa, Florida

MORE HEADS THEN BEDS

Metropolitan Ministries is a well-known name to homeless on the streets of Tampa. Outside children are at play, a man is asleep on a bench and a few people puff idly on cigarettes. Masses of people waiting inside tell a sad story about our economy.

9,566 homelessness men, women and children were counted in the 2009 Hillsborough county census. Orange-vested panhandlers are the only ‘truth’ most people ever learn about the homeless.

The reality is many of those people are not homeless, Jay Molina, director of compassion and action said. In fact, Molina said, the median age of the homeless in Tampa is nine.

Why are nine-year-olds homeless? Because their parents are.

“There aren’t enough shelters out there to house families. There are shelters out there to house single individuals, but there are few that house families,” Karl Celestine, director of outreach & prevention services said.” That’s because it’s not typical for families to be homeless, but that’s happening more every day.”

Tonight, Metropolitan Ministries said approximately 8,000 people in Tampa won’t be able to find shelters. On any given day, Celestine said, Metropolitan Ministries can have 40-50 families on their waiting list for housing.

AnaMaria Mendez, director of community relations said, “We had one case where a single mom and her child had been sleeping in a parking lot because it was well lit.”

Cases like these are not uncommon. The faces of the homeless, however, are often lost amongst ideas and generalities. Organizations like Metropolitan Ministries work to correct the problem.

“In our programs we train them through educational classes, so they will have a different perspective on how to live,” Celestine said. “We teach them how to fish as opposed to giving them the fish.”

Metropolitan Ministries offer services such as GED classes, an employment lab, counseling, money management, childcare and educational opportunities for children.

The homeless and needy often find out about these programs in a unique way. Rather than through commercials, radio programs and advertisements, the success of others speaks volumes.

“People often find out through word-of-mouth. We’ve been in the community for close to 40 years. We are pretty well established,” Mendez said. “People know this is where you come to find these services. “

As shelters struggle against a growing homeless population, the community can do their part and they are.

The job and housing market may be declining, but good will is increasing. People are becoming more empathic as reality hits home, literally. They feel the pull of the economy on their finances.

“There has been an increase in volunteers,” Mendez said.  “People want to give back, they want to feel like they are part of the solution in helping their fellow neighbor.”

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