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Expansion of shelter needs funds

Despite setbacks, Holy Ground has plans to construct six buildings with room for 173 homeless people, a church and a thrift store.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 13, 2002


HUDSON -- When Lisa Barabas-Henry bought 4.2 acres in fall 1999 to open a new Holy Ground homeless shelter, she was certain it would be built by 2002.

Then her husband died.

Then she had a heart attack.

Then Pasco County rejected her building plan.

"Now I'm happy and ready to roll," she said Thursday. "I just need some help."

Barabas-Henry plans to build six buildings, plus a mobile home for her family and one for her mother, on the new land less than half a mile north of her current site at Denton Avenue and U.S. 19. Although her shelter has held almost 100 people, its capacity is about 60, she said. The new facility will hold 173.

It will be a Mediterranean-style village. And although that might sound elaborate and the artist sketches might look great, it won't be anything extravagant, said Jim Anderson, who is coordinating the construction for the shelter.

"We could have this whole thing done in a year if the money was there," Anderson said.

But money is an obstacle, he and Barabas-Henry said. Because of it, they won't commit to any time frame.

The price tag on the new shelter could be as much as $1.2-million, Anderson said. But he said its construction could cost Holy Ground as little as nothing if donors, grants and construction workers supply the money and labor. That won't happen, Anderson said, but it's still the goal.

So far the shelter has used donations to build a fence around the property and raised $3,500 toward construction of the first building, a thrift store that will front U.S. 19 just north of Eden Avenue. Anderson, who said he formerly owned a Naples construction company that once built a $6-million house, has donated his services. He came to the shelter 15 months ago after his marriage and business collapsed.

Ray Bussmann, a New Port Richey civil engineer, has also donated his time. Discount offers for materials and services are on the table, some United Way money is on the way and the shelter is also seeking some state money that won't have many strings attached, Anderson said.

Typically, Barabas-Henry shuns government grants because they won't fund religious work.

"They don't let Jesus in the program," she said.

Nearly all of her budget comes from thrift store sales and donations.

Holy Ground is the county's largest and only all-inclusive shelter. The 10-year-old facility offers a two-phase program for fighting addictions. The county's next-largest shelter holds 12.

Holy Ground isn't run like a typical social service organization. Barabas-Henry, 42, lives at the faith-based shelter. She and her mother run it from a 200-square-foot office, where they keep the books by hand.

The method of management won't change just up the road at the new site, Barabas-Henry said. But the overflow of furniture donations and cramped offices will.

The six buildings will be a thrift store and office, a church with kitchen and gathering area, a 77-person men's bunkhouse for new arrivals, a 39-person men's dormitory for residents in their second 30 days, a 28-person family dormitory and a 29-person women's dormitory.

When it's finished, men who now live in surplus military tents will move into cinder-block dorms. The thrift store and office will move from a 1,500-square-foot, double-wide mobile home to a 9,300-square-foot building.

For now, two used, double-wide mobile homes -- one yellow with green shutters and one white -- sit on the back of the property. They don't have electric, sewer or water service yet. When they do, they will become Barabas-Henry's and her mother's homes.

The shelter is in the process of getting its first new building, the thrift store, approved by the county, said Pasco's planning director, Cindy Jolly. The county is waiting for a response from Holy Ground, she said.

Barabas-Henry is leasing the land at her current site. It's for sale, but the owner has told the St. Petersburg Times that he won't leave the shelter itself homeless.

But when will Holy Ground build the pretty buildings in the pictures?

"A time frame is awful hard to nail down," Anderson said.

-- Ryan Davis covers social services in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

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