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Homeless But Not Hopeless: Helping People Help Themselves in Clearwater

By Kelly Gallagher

Every person has their own unique story. The cashier at the grocery store, the businessman at the café, the bus driver, the young mother in the park: they have all experienced successes and struggles which brought them to where they are today. But there is a group of people whose stories are all too often overlooked: the homeless.

The Homeless Emergency Project (HEP), a non-profit organization located in Clearwater, Florida, understands that in order to effectively assist homeless and low-income clients and achieve long-term results, it is necessary to hear their stories. Knowing and addressing the specifics of a person's situation ensures they get the help they need to get back on their feet and remain self-sufficient.

Everyone's needs are different. Some HEP clients may benefit from participating in a computer class to hone their job skills, or substance abuse treatment to help them overcome addiction. Special programs for youth, (such as after-school care and summer camp) help ensure that homeless children enjoy the same social and educational opportunities as their peers. HEP also offers special services tailored to address the needs of homeless veterans.

"With the help of HEP's programs and services, our residents obtain a higher quality of life and become contributing members of the Clearwater community," says Terrance McAbee, HEP President & CEO. "The individuals who stay at HEP go on to successfully hold jobs and buy homes, and the children in the families we serve have a better educational foundation to succeed."

HEP's eight-acre campus offers emergency, transitional, and permanent supportive housing solutions. There are also on-site medical professionals (including dental and mental health services), a thrift store, transportation services, legal/financial assistance, and more.

"HEP also helps the community in measurable ways," says McAbee. "For example, the on-site medical services we provide, (through a partnership with Morton Plant Hospital) save taxpayers in the community more than 1.5 million each year in avoided emergency room visits and 911 calls."

The citizens of Clearwater have consistently been supportive of HEP's efforts, as is evidenced by a high participation in the organization's annual food drives and fundraisers. HEP is also a known presence at city events such as the Clearwater Centennial Parade, and many citizens offer their time and talents to help the HEP team provide compassionate and effective assistance to the area's homeless and low-income populations.

HEP does more than put roofs over heads. The organization strives to give people the tools they need to help themselves, and encourages a positive outcome to what very well may be the darkest chapter in their clients' lives. Every person has a story. HEP provides them with the tools they need to write their futures.

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About The Author

Kelly Gallagher studied creative writing at SUNY Oswego and Vermont College of Fine...

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