NEW PORT RICHEY — When the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County first formed about 25 years ago, perhaps 10 members would gather in a room, long-time coalition members recalled Wednesday.
A quarter of a century later, some 200 elected officials and community leaders filled a banquet hall at Seven Springs Golf and Country Club for the 25th anniversary breakfast.
“Ordinary people do extraordinary things,” Eugene Williams said in his introductory comments as executive director of the coalition.
The nonprofit group has made strides, Williams noted, by introducing a 10-year-plan to end homelessness here by 2020.
Much remains to be done, though, with some 3,305 people still homeless today, among them about 2,000 children.
The long-range plan, “Pathways to Permanence,” emphasizes assisting people to find affordable housing and jobs toward self-sufficiency.
Other groups have joined the cause. ACE Opportunities opened several years ago with structured housing and a 12-step recovery program for people who abused alcohol or drugs. Sometimes fighting back tears, Tina McCallum and Jenny Chausse spoke about their tumultuous teen years, which led them down very dark paths before they got help through ACE. Chausse recalled one of her toughest battles was to rid herself of notions of entitlement. She learned she had to work hard to achieve her goals to set her life straight.
Tax Collector Mike Fasano then spoke about how upset he was that some children in Pasco County are going to sleep at night in cars in parking lots.
While a state representative last year, Fasano helped obtain a $1 million state grant to build transitional housing in Pasco. The grant did not survive a veto, however. Fasano hopes legislators will try again this year for the grant funding.
Williams described Fasano as a “champion of the community.” A few years ago, Fasano helped fight off attempts to cut all funding in the state budget for some 28 homeless aid agencies around Florida.
The coalition gave the Sister Joan Foley Community Service Award to Commissioner Pat Mulieri for efforts to set up the mobile medical van to deliver treatments to homeless people. Fasano and Public Defender Bob Dillinger also were instrumental in the project.
“It’s just so wonderful to see people change their lives,” Mulieri commented. She encouraged one man down on his luck to pursue his dream to become a truck driver. Within 10 months, he achieved that goal.
“She gets her hands dirty,” George Romagnoli, Pasco community development manager, said about Mulieri. For her most passionate projects, Mulieri applies a tenacious bulldog approach toward solving problems, Romagnoli chuckled.
Awards also went to coalition pioneers Abby Evert, Sister Joan Foley, Penny Morrill, Dianne Morris, Adelaida Reyes and Royetta Runyon.
Keynote speaker Sheila Lopez, a Pinellas homeless advocate, debunked stereotypes about homeless people. Many folks believe the myth that a homeless person is dangerous and should be feared.