Hillsborough deputies expand homeless outreach program

- Franki Meccariello has a lot of people to thank -- and not just the guys at her new job at Beef O'Brady's in Brandon.  Not that long ago, she was homeless and living on the streets in Hillsborough County.

"I was sick of it.  I was ashamed," she recalled.  "It was getting to me.  And it wasn't for me."

That's when Franki reached out to Deputy Josh Boyer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Homeless Initiative.   It is Deputy Boyer's job to keep tabs on the homeless in his district.

"I go out to the homeless, give out business cards," he explained.  "Almost everybody out there knows who I am.  And she got a hold of me and gave me a ring."

It was a phone call that turned Franki's life around.

"Met him at the library in Seffner," she continued.  "He told me, 'If you really want to do this, you're going to wake up tomorrow and you're going to go to rehab.'  And I woke up and we went."

Deputy Boyer helped Franki find a place to live and look for a job.

"There was a job fair in Brandon.  She said, 'I'm ready.'  Picked her up from rehab, drove her there myself and went around to businesses.  She filled out applications.  And got called a week later."

There are many more stories just like Franki's.  And many homeless in Hillsborough County.

"We had to do something," offered HCSO Major Chad Chronister.  "The homeless problem isn't a problem we are going to arrest our way out of.  We had to figure something out.  That's why Sheriff Gee started the Homeless Initiative.  We had one deputy five years ago.  Now, it has expanded to five deputies across the county."

Now, it includes the Homeless Initiative Center on West Waters Avenue, where the homeless can come and get what they need: Clothes, food, water, help.

We wish we could tell you that all these stories end up like Franki's.  They don't.  But many do. 

She's a grateful woman whose life has been turned around.

"When you see someone who was, a year and a half ago, living on the streets and now a productive member of society -- she's healthy,  she's clean,  she's sober -- how can you not cheer for someone like that?" Maj. Chronister added.

"Everything is going great," Franki beamed.  "Love my job.  Love life.  Love the people in my life.  Everything is wonderful.  Thank god.  And thank Deputy Boyer and HCSO."

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