ST. PETERSBURG - In a matter of 600 days, a Bay Area non-profit has been able to put roofs over the heads of 600 families without housing in Pinellas County.
On March 17, 2020, St. Vincent de Paul CARES, based in St. Petersburg, partnered with hundreds of landlords – with the goal of ending housing insecurity. Instead of working from home, they worked for homes.
"The majority of people that we embrace have grown up in poverty," said Michael Raposa, CEO of St. Vincent de Paul CARES. "Their parents grew up in poverty and their grandparents grew up in poverty. It is three generations and 95% of them are local residents. So this is not about people moving to Florida and suddenly ending up on our streets because we asked those questions."
Once they housed 100, they set another goal, then, another.
"We were moving people into housing, really, at a rate of almost three per day," Raposa said.
600 days since they started, they've pulled 600 Pinellas County households out of homelessness. That's more than 900 men, women, children, and veterans now sleeping in their own beds.
"The price of ending homelessness is not as much as most people think it is. We can end it forever for a family for around $5,000," Raposa said.
St. Vincent de Paul CARES sticks by them before, during, and after. The goal is to end the cycle forever.
"We work with them to try to gain employment in some instances or maybe strengthen their employment," Raposa said. "If there's a physical or mental or other form of disability, our staff is right there to connect them to the disability resources or strengthen their disability."
The City of St. Pete is also increasing homelessness resources with $400,000 budgeted for Rapid Rehousing.
Friday night at 7 p.m., there will be a move-in celebration at St. Jude's Catholic Church, recognizing hundreds of fresh starts.
Charlotte Deakins is grateful for hers. St. Vincent de Paul helped her find a safe home during the pandemic.
It was a series of hurdles, one after another, that left her with disabilities, unable to work or pay rent.
"I had ended up in 2008, losing half of my right arm to MRSA," Deakins said. "A broken neck, broken back, all sorts of things."
As the pandemic closed doors, Charlotte found herself without a roof over her head.
"I came down here with a sleeping bag and a tent and canned goods, a pot and pan," Deakins recalled.
Since then, life has done a complete 180.
"I think the best thing was just knowing that I was in a place where I was safe, and then, I could afford it," Deakins said. "The people at St Vincent de Paul went so far above and beyond anything I ever dreamed up. I really consider myself blessed."