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    Building to shelter homeless, stores

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 22, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- When Barbara Green sets her mind to do something, it usually happens.

    For 30 years, as administrator for the Homeless Emergency Project, she has been helping families find emergency shelter, transitional housing and even permanent homes.

    Next year, she intends to watch a much-needed $1-million project rise on the corner of Engman Street and Betty Lane in the North Greenwood neighborhood. It will feature a 12,000-square-foot thrift store and eight one-bedroom apartments built for homeless people who are disabled.

    The apartments will help address a growing need for housing in the community, while the thrift store will help shore up the project's operating budget.

    Already, 180 people live in temporary and permanent homes built by the project.

    "We're always full," she said. "We get vacancies, but they are filled in a day or a couple of days because people are coming in all the time."

    In the new building, the 600-square-foot apartments will have a separate bedroom and a combined kitchen and living area.

    "There is a real shortage of affordable housing in Florida," Green said. "They can get jobs, but they don't pay enough money. The rents go up and the utilities go up, but the salaries stay the same for years."

    Clearwater's Housing Division has already given the project a nod of approval. Administrators there hope the City Commission will do the same in August and approve a $350,000 grant of state and federal funds awarded by the city.

    "The agency has developed a strong reputation in the community for their ability to run a good, supportive housing program as well as handling construction projects and managing them," said Nina Bandoni, assistant housing director in Clearwater.

    In the meantime, Green has applied for other grants, including one totaling $411,359 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    After money is secured for the project, the Bargain Barn and the Unique Boutique, both operated by the Homeless Emergency Project, will be consolidated into a one large center and sell everything from clothing to household items to furniture.

    When that happens, no one will be more relieved than Audrey McAbee, manager of the Bargain Barn. A huge fan keeps air circulating downstairs around clothing and furniture. But outside, where some dishes are kept, a shopper is left to wilt in the sweltering heat. Upstairs, where books and other odds and ends are kept, a thermometer said it was 105 degrees Thursday.

    "When it's hot like this, people can't shop," she said. "They can't take the heat."

    The Bargain Barn and the old What A Burger stand will be leveled to make room for the project. A smaller thrift shop, Unique Boutique, will be closed, and its merchandise will be moved to the new two-story shop.

    A furniture repair shop will sit in the back of the property. All too often, furniture is discarded because the workers at the thrift shop can't reupholster or restore it.

    And Jonathan Wade, president of the North Greenwood Association, said the community could reap other, more permanent changes. "Folks disenfranchised today can be empowered tomorrow and become an asset to the community," he said.

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