Several news articles this week about Tampa Catholic Charities setting up a 100- tent homeless shelter called Hillsboro Hope, brought to mind the old biblical line “what so ever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”
Society has always excluded registrants from most homeless shelters. Even during our country’s worst episodes of floods, earthquakes, triple digit and freezing temperatures, registrants have been left to fend for themselves. So, is it any wonder that once again, registrants are being denied the same basic necessities of life such as food, shelter and clothing that any other human being deserves? The difference this time, it’s occurring during the worst pandemic of our lives and this time by a Catholic Charity.
Tampa’s “Hillsboro Hope” is a recently opened shelter, it’s mission, to take in the homeless during these rough times. The exception of course is when it comes to homeless “sex offenders”. Screening for “sex offender” status takes place prior to admission.
According to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County is under a “safer at home” order, so those without a home are at higher risk of contracting viruses. “The sooner we start taking care of each other, the sooner we can get through this together” said the mayor.
Well, the Mayor’s statement sounds a bit hollow if you’re a registrant. Are we really “all in this together?”
Exactly why are registrants being excluded? Well, I wanted to hear it for myself.
I called Hillsboro Hope and spoke to a nice case manager who will remain nameless so as not to jeopardize his job, who willingly answered some questions before suggesting I should probably speak with the Director/Maggie Rogers, at the main office.
“Why are registrants being excluded by a charitable organization during a pandemic?” I asked. “Isn’t that sort of the opposite of what charity is supposed to be all about?”
The case manager responded that “sex offenders” are always a difficult group to place during a crisis due to the nature of their offenses. He also suggested that those who fund the charity are the persons that make the rules regarding exclusions. Whether this case manager truly didn’t know or just wasn’t telling, he couldn’t answer the question as to who the source of Hillsboro Hope’s funding was. I imagine that since Tampa Police Dept. will be providing security for the shelter, city funding is involved somewhere. So, is it the city of Tampa that is excluding some of its citizens? Citizens who although homeless, may work and pay city taxes? I couldn’t seem to get any answer.
“Are homeless registrants being referred to or sheltered at some other facility during this pandemic?” I asked.
I was advised that “the issue hadn’t come up yet” so the case manager wasn’t certain as to what would happen with registrants if they did show up at the shelter, but personally, he didn’t know of any other places to refer them to.
I called the main office of Catholic Charities but the phone just rang and rang. I emailed them with a list of questions about referral sources for registrants, whether any groups other than registrants, people that had also already served their sentences, were excluded. I asked about their source of funding too. I’ve asked that they respond in a timely manner so that I could give a fair and accurate account as to why registrants were excluded from receiving shelter by their charitable organization during a pandemic. As of this writing, 5 days since I contacted them, I’ve still received no response.
We keep hearing “we’re all in this together”, from the president, the mayors, the media. It seems to be the “phrase of the day” that’s supposed to help all of us through all this crisis.
Well, someone needs to define the word “we”, because to those homeless registrants that are left out on the streets to face the pandemic alone, “we” doesn’t include them. For them, “we’re all in this together” is a meaningless phrase.
I can’t help but wonder, do you think Catholic Charities would deny shelter to one of their own, a homeless, defrocked, priest, that happened to be a registrant?