A year after launch, Tampa Hope's homeless shelter cottages have yet to be built

Last year, the city gave $750,000 to help establish the shelter.

click to enlarge Tampa HOPE shelter tents on December 14, 2022. - Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia
Tampa HOPE shelter tents on December 14, 2022.
After estimating their completion this year, plans to open 100 cottages at East Tampa's Hope homeless shelter are delayed.

On Dec. 13, 2021, Tampa city officials and Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg announced the launch of the Tampa Hope shelter, which is the result of a partnership between the city and the nonprofit.

The vision is to build a potential total of 200 Hope Cottages that can withstand Category 5 hurricane force winds and provide climate control and electrical outlets for those in need of shelter. City council approved $750,000 of city funds to help get the project going.

During the launch last December, Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg, the nonprofit that runs the shelter, estimated that around 100 of the cottages would be built sometime in 2022, with more to come afterwards. In June, the nonprofit told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that 100 of the cottages had been ordered, all estimated to be constructed by the end of this year.

Hope received those cottages, but their construction has been delayed while the unconstructed cottages are stored on the property.  For now, the shelter still consists of around 120 tents on pallets. The delay is due to a combination of issues, said Louis Ricardo, director of marketing and donor relations for Catholic Charities St. Petersburg.

"We still have to do all of the infrastructure build out," Ricardo told CL. "They require electricity, and we need to trench in the electrical."

Ricardo estimated that the groundbreaking for the electrical will happen next spring. Once they've installed the underground electrical, along with other infrastructure work that will be coordinated with the city and TECO, the nonprofit can start building up the cottages.

He credited the City of Tampa for helping expedite permitting processes to install infrastructure, but said the process is still taking longer than initially anticipated. This, along with supply chain issues due to the pandemic, have led to the delay in construction, Ricardo said.

Catholic Charities plans to hold a "one year and one month" anniversary press conference in January to give the community an update on the progress of the shelter.

Ricardo told CL that he would love to be able to say at that press conference that the shelters will be built next year before it gets hotter and before storm season. During Hurricane Ian this year, all of the tents, which have been upgraded since last year, had to be deconstructed and put away when Hope's residents were moved to a shelter.

But Ricardo added that the cottage project is big and expensive, and that in the end, the cost could be in the millions, which could require more financial support from donors.
click to enlarge 100 Hope cottages are awaiting construction, but need the infrastructure first. - Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia
100 Hope cottages are awaiting construction, but need the infrastructure first.
City Councilman Orlando Gudes said that he understands that delays can happen, but that he hopes the cottages get built as soon as possible.

"I don't have an issue as long as they're gonna update us and give us a plan on when it's going to happen, so long as there's a reasonable situation about why it's been delayed," Gudes said.  "But in the end, let's just get it done."

City councilwoman Lynn Hurtak said that the delay is not ideal, but  hopes it's part of a sustainable project that will help hundreds of people out long term.

"I think that it's it's unfortunate that setbacks that have affected so many other city projects have also hit this project, because it is so needed," Hurtak told CL. "What I do like about this plan is that it's not going to be it's not going to be thrown up hastily. The infrastructure is going to be there to maintain for the long term."

Hurtak added that from data that she got today, Hope has helped 26% of people who've been through the doors find permanent housing this year.

Tampa's communications team has not yet responded to questions of how the city is helping to expedite the infrastructure process.

Carl Walker, 59, has just found housing that he'll be moving into with his partner Eileen Mayo, who also stays at Hope, just in time for the holidays.

Walker has been at the shelter since January and said that even though the cottages haven't been built, a tent with a mattress to sleep on beats trying to sleep on the streets. He also pointed to the shelter's shower and laundry facilities which he called "priceless" for those who find themselves homeless.

That and three meals a day have kept him going this year, despite facing severe medical issues. When he was dealing with the issues, the shelter put him in a hotel. And the group will also continue to help him and his partner with housing assistance, he told CL.

"The program is actually working," he said. "It's benefiting those who are wanting to put in the work to start a new life."

Ricardo said that while there's a lot of work to still be done to build up the shelters, there are a lot of opportunities for people who want to find housing and stability after they arrive at Tampa Hope.

As far as the cottages go, he looks forward to nailing down a solid timeline as soon as possible.

"I'd love to be able to say that sometime in 2023 we have these constructed and are lining people up to live in them in because they were wonderful, with air conditioning and light," Ricardo said. "But it is going to take some time, and money."

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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