Triad Magazine

A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.

Students help the homeless

Story and photo By John Tinker

Rod describes life on the streets as “a dog-eat-dog world.”

On a night that might be cold and rainy outside, most would stay inside their homes with a roof over their heads and a place to rest; possibly, they would turn up the heat on the thermostat to stay comfortable. However, for nearly 10,000 men, women, and children who make up Hillsborough County’s homeless population, a roof over their heads and comfortable place to rest is just a dream.
According to the 2007 Hillsborough County Homeless Coalition’s Homeless Census, there are over 9,500 people in the county who are homeless. Out of that number, over 1,500 of them are under 18-years-old and 43 percent of those on the streets today are experiencing homelessness for the first time. One of those lives that are lived on the streets belongs to a man named Rod.
“I’ve been out here about the past seven years, on and off,” said the 73-year-old, who declined to give his last name for privacy reasons. With a long, haggard white beard, and sunken eyes, wearing a weathered gray fleece jacket and New York Yankees baseball cap, Rod stays in the financial district of downtown Tampa.
“It’s a real dog-eat-dog world out here,” he said, “Very few out here who you can trust,” said Rod. “Some will come up, beat you up, take your stuff, take everything that you own.”
When asked what circumstances led to his homelessness, he replied that while he did have a family, he felt that he became a burden to them after his daughter and other family members fell on hard financial times.
“So I just … left,” said Rod.
There are enough shelters and services in Hillsborough County to accommodate only 15 percent of the county’s homeless population, leaving nearly 8,000 without refuge. There are just a few other public resources for the homeless to turn to.
Fortunately, there are some charities and private organizations that help meet their needs.
One of those groups is Reaching Tampa, an organization that is based out of Idlewild Baptist Church’s college ministry. Every Thursday night, a group of 40 to 50 students meet together and then split up into groups to serve food or hang out with the homeless all across the county.
Hillsborough Community College graduate and University of Tampa student, Mark Blair, heads up a group that serves the homeless in the downtown Tampa financial district.
“When we’ve talked with some of the guys that are out here they’ve told us that we’re their favorite group because we’ll actually sit and talk with them, that most other groups will drive up, give them the food and then drive off without taking time out to help nourish the person,” Blair said. He made it known that while food is a necessity, human interaction is even more treasured.
“We at least make an attempt to reach out to them and find out what their story is, what their personality is like, their strengths and struggles,” Blair said, “If there’s a tangible need that we can have donated and taken it to them, we’ll do it. I once went out and purchased a flashlight, barber scissors, and a couple other items for one of the homeless men,” said Blair.
Casey Chajkowski, an HCC student, leads another group that serves the Bayshore area. Chajkowski’s interactions with the homeless have given him a jaded view of the support net that has been set up for area homeless. “There’s so many out there that have fallen through the cracks just because they fell on hard times,” Chajkowski said.
He made a plea for more hands and feet to help out. “These guys get painted with a broad brush and a lot of times it is really unfair,” said Chajkowski, “Whether some want to acknowledge it or not, the homeless are people, too. Stop ignoring them.”
Reaching Tampa’s website can be found at http://www.reachingtampa.com and serves multiple other aspects and areas within the Tampa Bay area.

Support Reaching
Tampa’s Mission to help feed the Homeless.

Cooking teams meet Thursday
at 3:30 p.m. Food distribution teams also meet Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.,
in South Tampa.

For more information on ways to
get involved send an e-mail to:
Catlin@reachingtampa.org

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