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Metropolitan Ministries plans expansion of homeless shelter

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 12:20 AM

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As the number of homeless families continues to rise in the Tampa Bay area, Metropolitan Ministries is planning to make more room at the shelter just north of downtown Tampa.

The iconic charity shelters an average of 40 families a day, including 90 children. Children, homeless advocates say, are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

The shelter at Metropolitan Ministries has been at capacity for several years, and currently has a two- to three-month waiting list.

Metropolitan Ministries President Tim Marks said making extra space for more beds is just a part of the expansion. The day care, the education center, the partnerships with the school board and Head Start also are included in the increase in clients.

"We are focusing specifically on families and their transformation to self-sufficiency," Marks said, "and there's a lot of support that goes with that."

He said the expansion is in its early stages. There are no specific construction plans, nor are there any concrete methods of funding the growth. He said that paying for the expansion likely would be a mix of donations and grants.

"We are just now just starting to meet," he said, "to figure out how to make this work."

The expansion and renovation at Metropolitan Ministries will double the capacity, said Ana Mendez, spokeswoman for the organization.

The floundering local and national economies have increased the number of people needing shelter. A recent survey found that there are more than 20,000 homeless people in the Bay area, including nearly 10,000 in Hillsborough County.

The shelter is located in Tampa Heights, a gentrifying neighborhood where stately homes and upscale businesses are adjacent to dilapidated and vacant houses and homeless panhandlers.

The shelter is located in Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick's district. He was unaware of the plans to expand this week, but said he backed the plan.

"If they are willing to expand that facility to intake more homeless people," he said, "I think that's wonderful. The homeless population continues to increase, families especially. This would be great for the Tampa Bay community.''

With the economy continuing to sag, Reddick said, "more and more people are finding themselves unemployed and on the threshold of becoming homeless."

Metropolitan Ministries is working with the Tampa Heights Civic Association's executive board to make sure the shelter's expansion plans fold into the board's 10-year plan for the neighborhood.

Reddick said that he expects some in the community will object to the shelter expansion.

"But compare that to the urgent needs of the homeless population," he said, "and I think we have to compromise in some way. I'd be compromising on the side of Metropolitan to help reduce the homeless population problem."

Mendez said the expansion should be done sometime next year, and "about double the capacity we have."


kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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