Empty jail could be new Pinellas homeless shelter

6:03 PM, Dec 3, 2010   |    comments
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Pinellas County, Florida-- It has beds, bathrooms, even board games.

There's everything you need to feel right at home, which is what an empty jail could soon become for up to 500 homeless people.

The building, located near the Pinellas County courthouse, is no longer used due to budget cuts.

After receiving a multimillion dollar renovation a few years ago, it has been empty for around a year.

Community leaders took a tour of the building on Friday, as they hope to transform it into what you might call a short-term rehab center for the homeless.

"They'll come and we can get some services going and get them into more stable housing," explained Sarah Snyder, from the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless.

The facility, though, wouldn't just be for the homeless.  It would also serve as somewhat of a halfway house for jail inmates before they are released.

"This is going to afford them the opportunity to seek services to help them be successful upon re-entering the community," said Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats.

However, there are several concerns.

One is the location, along 49th street, away from most of the county's homeless population.

The other is funding. 

The nearly $2 million per year it would cost to run the place, should be covered by grants at first, but there's no guarantee of that long-term.

"Our question is that reoccurring commitment.  We don't want to move into this facility this year and then have the grants expire in a year or two," said county commissioner Ken Welch.

Homeless leaders acknowledge this wouldn't completely solve the homeless problem, but they say it is a place to start.

Commissioners could vote on the facility at their December 14th meeting.

The hope is to move into sometime in January.

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