Trinity Café since 2001 has offered hot meals to homeless people and the working poor. For the past eight years it has operated from the Salvation Army building on Florida Avenue.
On Tuesday the café opens at a new location – 2801 N. Nebraska Ave. For the first time the charity has its own building with a full kitchen, dining area, men’s and women’s bathrooms, a pantry, a walk-in freezer and storage space. Instead of eight tables squeezed into cramped quarters at the Salvation Army, the café has more spacious room for 12 tables.
“That’s a big change,” said program Director Cindy Davis. The goal is to increase the number of meals served daily from about 200 to 250, and as money becomes available to go from five days a week of operation to seven days.
The charity also faces a challenge: convincing some V.M. Ybor residents that Trinity will be a good neighbor. Some skeptical residents are bracing for what they say will be an influx of homeless people and problems similar to what was seen along Florida Avenue outside the Salvation Army building: people sleeping on sidewalks, litter, loitering, crowds waiting for meals and squatters in boarded-up houses.
“We definitely have been already seeing more homeless in anticipation of Trinity opening,” said Kelly Bailey, president of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association. “The foot traffic also has increased. I’m seeing more of them settling in at Borell Park. More men are walking up and down Nebraska with their backpacks.”
Tampa police so far have not seen an increase in homeless people in the neighborhood, said spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
“The neighborhood has worked very hard to redevelop the area,” she said. “We want to support their efforts. But you always have to balance the needs of the underprivileged with the needs of the neighborhood. We will be monitoring what happens when the café opens.”
The neighborhood association last year unsuccessfully pleaded with Tampa City Council members to help block the café from opening. City officials said there was nothing they could do. Trinity owned the property and is allowed to operate an eatery.
Most of the V.M. Ybor neighborhood – with about 3,000 residents - is within a historical district north of Ybor City. Its rich history is rooted in the surge of cigar workers who moved to the area in the early 20th century.
In recent years residents have renovated the neighborhood’s bungalows, wood-frame houses and casitas but also struggled with squatters, prostitutes and drug users. A spate of arsons – many at vacant historical structures – plagued the neighborhood from 2008 to 2010. A handful of arsons also have occurred in the past two years.
Café supporters say there are misconceptions about their efforts. Davis pointed out three tiles embedded on an outside wall that define Trinity’s mission – to spread kindness, dignity and respect.
As many as 30 volunteers wait on the café’s guests who are served three-course meals of soup or salad, an entrée, vegetable, fruit and dessert on china. “We want to give a lot of kindness and respect to people while they are here,” Davis said.
And she said some residents have been supportive. “I’ve had folks walk down here and welcome us to the neighborhood and say they don’t have a problem. I’m hoping others will give us a chance.”
But there is uncertainty in the neighborhood about the café’s effect.
Some residents have videotaped neighborhood streets to compare conditions before and after the café opens. “We’re really concerned that some or all of the problems (on Florida) are going to migrate up here,” Bailey said. “The city has done nothing to combat homelessness.”
A building dedication and tour of the café will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on May 14.