For someone who's had to look over their shoulder and wander the streets for a spot to rest for the night, the Pinellas Safe Harbor Homeless Facility will be home sweet home. At least that's the plan.
The Sheriff's Office 500-bed facility will have the basic necessities like a bed, bathroom, shower and three meals a day. They will cater to the homeless who are released from the county jail or do not meet the requirements of other shelters.
But that has many residents who live and own businesses by 49th Street, along the Clearwater-Largo municipal border, upset that the county's homeless will become their problem.
Tabatha Crosby is not one of them.
Three years ago Crosby, her three children and her cancer stricken sister Taketa Roberts packed what belongings could fit into their car and headed for a homeless shelter.
Crosby lost her job, her home and was then faced with the possibility of losing her sister.
"It was the lowest point in my life," Crosby said.
Crosby and her family stayed in an open room shelter for three months.
Waking up in a crowded hall full of strangers and having to wait in line for food and hand-me-downs was a terrifying experience for the young mother.
"I did a lot of thinking," Crosby said, "I had no one to turn to, so I had to step up."
Her plan was to get a job and save enough money to get her family into a home, once again.
It wasn't easy. They ate Thanksgiving dinner in a mess hall, a first for the close-knit family who had better times. When Christmas came along and Crosby couldn't afford gifts for her kids, "it hurt real bad," she said.
With no one to turn to and four people depending on her for help, Crosby knew this wasn't the life she wanted.
To get back on her feet she needed a job but in a tough economy they were hard to come by.
Still Crosby persisted and when she finally found one she worked double shifts and overtime to save up money for a down payment.
Jan. 4 is a day Crosby and Roberts won't ever forget.
"We got out of there," Roberts said.
Crosby and Roberts, who recovered from her cancer, attended the Pinellas Safe Harbor Homeless Facility community meeting on Monday, Dec. 20.
They now advocate for the homeless and have been concerned about the county's lack of shelters.
"I think this will help them progress in their lives," Roberts said.
With an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent and slow to recover housing market, Crosby sighed, "I think most people are one paycheck away from being homeless."
"I support this project," she added.
Rose Rohner, a retired Clearwater resident, often sees homeless people walking through her neighborhood. She was skeptical about how the shelter will help improve the problem.
"If they are going to be here they need to have a structured program to help them get going … get on their feet," she said.
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Bob Gualtieri said the shelter provides another alternative to incarceration.
Over time it will also save the county thousands of dollars.
It costs the county $126 a day to house and feed an inmate. At the shelter it will cost $2 a day.
"It's a big savings," Gualtieri said.
The bulk of the shelters operating costs will come from federal grants. The $2 a day, which Gualtieri said is the utility cost per person, will be covered by the general fund.
Although the shelter has a capacity for 500 beds, it will open in January with 50 beds. The Sheriff's Office will ease into filling more beds over time.
The individuals housed at the shelter will be provided three meals a day, bathroom and shower facilities, a cot on the floor, games, access to books and television. They will have to pass through metal detectors, but they are free to come and go as they please — even if they are intoxicated. That's because this shelter will take individuals who wouldn't be accepted at other facilities. Most of the homeless coming into the shelter will be those who are part of the criminal justice system.
The idea is to help these individuals be self-sustaining.
That's where the county's partnership with other organizations and employers comes in. Job skill training will be provided and employers will visit the shelter to recruit workers.
Even if all are not successful in finding a job, "It's better that they are sitting here watching TV than sitting in St. Pete in a cardboard box in 50 degree weather," Gualtieri said.
But not all citizens were convinced the shelter is the right solution.
"The thing is you're going to ship more in here," said Jeff Hoyt, a Largo resident who owns rental properties and is concerned that the homeless will deter renters.
"This has been an initiative for a long time," said Sheriff Jim Coats.
"It's either this or open up more housing units and when you're talking about housing units it's not $100,000, it's millions of dollars," he said.
The shelter is meant to stop the revolving door that keeps the homeless coming into the jail for victimless crimes like public urination. It's a countywide problem that has many Largo and Clearwater residents concerned that St. Petersburg's homeless will be shipped to their neighborhood.
"We are well aware of your concerns," Gualtieri said.
Although most citizens left satisfied with the presentation, they questioned whether it will be successful.
Richard Murphy, who lives within walking distance to the shelter said, "Only time is going to answer that question."
Meanwhile, Crobsy and other supporters who have been waiting for the project to come to fruition are hopeful that it will make a difference.
Crosby's experience at a homeless shelter helped motivate her to further her education. She became a surgical technician and is now enrolled in school to become an emergency medical technician.
She believes this shelter will give the homeless an opportunity to change their lives.
"I think it will be a good thing. They need to be treated equally," Crosby said.