TAMPA — With kids mugging for the cameras, Metropolitan Ministries officials Tuesday morning embarked on the second chapter of their seemingly never-ending task: providing housing for homeless families.
With a nod to what has been done, they looked at what’s to come in their multimillion-dollar MiraclePlace project that provides transitional housing with all the amenities.
The first phase stood to the east, a pristine row of apartments that are temporary homes for 52 families. To commemorate that, officials cut a red ribbon in the courtyard of the campus just north of downtown between Florida Avenue and Tampa Street.
That phase cost $13 million, and families moved in a couple months ago.
The second chapter will cost $10 million and will include a chapel, a youth enrichment recreational center and a gymnasium and will be built across the courtyard from the apartments. That’s where the ground-breaking spades came into play Tuesday, which included a row of children wielding kid-size shovels. The entire project is being paid for mostly through private and corporate donations and some government grants.
A third chapter, a year away, will be a kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school for children housed at the complex and for kids living in the nearby Tampa Heights community.
It’s an ambitious story, one that captured the enthusiasm of most of the 150 or so in attendance at the event.
“This is a reflection of the capacity of this community,” said Morris Hintzman, who founded Metropolitan Ministries 41 years ago and now serves as chief executive officer, “and what can be done when we lay aside who gets credit and focus on who gets helped.”
Metropolitan Ministries began in 1972 in a downtown church serving food to the homeless, he said.
“We’ve come a long way,” Hintzman said. “We’ve seen thousands of lives transformed and renewed and that’s why we were here in the first place.”
Hather Revolus now lives in one of the apartments and drew a standing ovation from the crowd after telling her story. She had been homeless for some time, staying with friends and family, every day facing exile to the streets. She put herself on the waiting list at Metropolitan Ministries and got a call in August that there was room for her.
The acceptance came with more than just a place to sleep, shower, eat. She enrolled in Metropolitan Ministries classes on relationships and how to land employment as well as public speaking.
She was at the ceremony Tuesday morning, smartly dressed in a dark business suit, with her hair neatly gathered in back. She could have been a bank officer downtown, or a business woman breaking through the glass ceiling.
“What do you see when you look at me?” she asked. “I am homeless.”
She said she has emerged from a dark place in her 38-year life. She was hopeless, depending on family and friends for a place to stay. “I felt like a nobody,” she said.
Now, she’s volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries and hopes to land a job there when one opens up, or somewhere else. She is excited about the possibilities.
“I want you to see a person who has confidence,” she said, “a person with a will to succeed and a zest for life.”
Helping people like Revolus isn’t done in a vacuum.
Metropolitan Ministries would not be where it is without the community’s support. There are 50,000 individual and corporate donors, said Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries. About 10,000 volunteers have over the years offered their services, and 150 people work there.
“They all believe in the wisdom of the quote that says, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ ” he said.
Over the past two years, $16 million has been pledged to the MiraclePlace project, he said, $12 million of which has come from private donors.
While the number of the chronically homeless has dropped over the past few years, families in need still are seeking help. There is a two-month waiting list for housing at MiraclePlace.
Fifty-two families currently are housed there, each with a guaranteed spot for a year or until they can get their lives together and get out on their own. Renovations are being made to the shelter in the main building, which will make room for another 47 families sometime next year.
The Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County recently counted fewer than 2,000 homeless in a survey conducted earlier this year, down from 4,000 counted in 2011. Assistance for families, though, has not waned, said Gwen Harmon, spokeswoman for Metropolitan Ministries.
A recent report from the Florida Council on Homelessness ranked Florida third in the country for homeless people, with 8.7 percent of the nation’s homeless living here. Two-thirds of the state’s homeless are unsheltered and live on the streets, the report said, and many are families.
“This,” said Metropolitan Ministries board member Martin Silbiger, “is the single-most important project in our community.”