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Home for severely mentally ill opens

Benedict Haven, at 210 72nd Ave. N, will be a permanent home with 24-hour supervision.

By PAMELA GRINER LEAVY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Dolores Castaldo opened the doors Friday to Benedict Haven, a permanent family-style home for adults with severe mental illness.

Benedict Haven, at 210 72nd Ave. N, will house six adults. The home will be a member of the Mobile Americana Neighborhood Association.

While social service agencies that serve mentally ill and homeless people sometimes meet with "not in my back yard" resistance, that hasn't happened this time.

"We are not opposed," said Virginia Curtis, president of the Mobile Americana neighborhood organization. "I think they will be well supervised, from the mailings they sent us."

Benedict Haven is a dream come true for Castaldo, its founder. Her son, Sal, has had schizophrenia for 24 years.

Too many severely mentally ill people have been put out the streets, released not only from state institutions but from transitional group homes, Castaldo said. Homeless or even in their own apartments, severely mentally ill people can forget to take their medications, don't eat properly and suffer from isolation. Benedict Haven is a non-profit corporation.

A trained staff of three includes a full-time activities director and a house manager, who will provide 24-hour care. Local fundraising and a loan of about $325,000 from the Sisters of Mercy foundation in Maryland enabled Castaldo to break ground July 13 and open the doors last week.

"Our focus is on the severely and chronically medically mentally ill who need 24-hour supervision," said Judith Turnbaugh, president of the board of directors of Benedict Haven Inc. "If they didn't have a place like this, they could end up in jail for trespassing, because there is no one to give them their medication or take care of them."

Castaldo has her sights set on another location for two more homes: 47th Avenue N between Second and Third streets. The proposed site still needs to go through the city zoning process.

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