Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bishop blesses Hope Cottages project converting shipping containers to bedrooms

Photos by T. Allan Smith
Grand Knight Jerry Sirgey sprinkles holy water during Ceremonial Blessing. Behind him is Bishop Lynch.
Bishop Lynch speaks during the Ceremonial Blessing.
Bishop Robert Lynch blessed the new Hope Cottages at Pinellas Hope on Thursday, assisted by Jerry Sirgey, Grand Knight of the St. Raphael Council 10157. The project to build emergency homeless shelters from discarded steel shipping containers originated with the council and has been spearheaded by Brother Kevin Greeno.

Four recently completed containers were installed at Pinellas Hope in the last couple of weeks, and are now ready to be occupied by homeless residents at the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s homeless shelter off 49th Street near Ulmerton Road.

Knights from St. Raphael parish represented the council, as did Fr. Tim Sherwood and Fr. Kevin Mackin, OFM, who gave the opening prayer for the Ceremonial Blessing. Speakers included Grand Knight Jerry, Mark Dufva, executive director of Catholic Charities, Pam Long, director of homeless services at Catholic Charities and head of Pinellas Hope, Cliff Smith, manager of veteran, social and homeless services for St. Petersburg, and Millicent Perry, a Pinellas Hope resident and one of the first to occupy a Hope Cottage.

Fr. Kevin offers an opening prayer.
Millicent Perry told those who attended about living in a tent at Pinellas Hope and having to leave it because of illness. She was offered residence in the first container unit installed, the prototype. She said when the door opened she saw a bed, a light, and a window. After the stay in the tent, this was a welcome sight but she was still a little incredulous. 

“I just didn’t believe it at first,” she told the audience. Later in the evening, as she rested in her new room, she regarded the cross on the wall. “I said, ‘Jesus, am I worthy of this blessing?’ I sat down on the bed that night and I cried so hard because I couldn’t believe where I was. I couldn’t believe that I was being so blessed.”

She said she felt bad for the fellow residents who are still living in tents “but I knew I needed to keep my head up.” Soon other residents were occupying the other two rooms in the prototype.

The four units opened on Thursday provide another 12 rooms for Pinellas Hope residents, and the project is under way to raise $1.25 million to pay for purchasing and converting 50 shipping containers into Hope Cottages. The shipping container rooms are far more efficient and cost effective than the tents, which do not weather well with continuous use and must be replaced each year. Plus, the shipping container rooms are sturdy and built to withstand storms.
From left, Fr.Tim, Fr. Kevin, Mark Dufva, Cliff Smith, and Millicent Perry listen to Bishop Lynch.