Preston is on disability and receives a modest income of $1,400 a month. This was enough for him to get by for years, until his rent increased $200 a month in June, and he ended up on the streets. Preston has struggled for the last four months – losing more than 20 pounds while managing his diabetes and medical issues.
Preston joins us for a meal at Trinity Cafe, a charitable restaurant with two locations in Tampa that has served more than 1.3 million meals with dignity during the past 16 years. He needs the meal desperately, but more than the food, he needs the connection and sense of community that supports and encourages him. At Trinity Cafe, Preston has found volunteers and staff who know him by name, check in on him and help connect him with community resources. He likes to join Ed and Claire at table seven on Wednesdays; they have been married 64 years. Ed celebrated his 90th birthday volunteering at Trinity Cafe as he and Claire have done weekly for 16 years. Ed claims volunteering helps him live longer, and the research proves it. Helping others regularly reduces early mortality rates by 22 percent.
Thanks to the work of many in our community, the number of homeless in Hillsborough County has decreased 15 percent. But quit applauding! Far too many remain homeless – nearly 1,600 according to the latest homeless count numbers. We can move these neighbors around, push them north of downtown, force them to hide, but until we offer more solutions with housing, health care and quality of life services, the numbers will remain virtually the same. What is happening with the more than 450 zombie foreclosures sitting vacant in Tampa Bay? Why aren’t we incentivizing and advocating for affordable housing solutions alongside vast community and economic development?
We should be shocked and appalled that so many in our community have challenges with the necessities of life including food and shelter. One in six of go hungry, and one in four are children! Review Feeding Tampa Bay’s Don’t Label Hunger Campaign, and you might recognize those struggling with hunger are beside you at school, in the grocery aisle, at church and even on the front lines of major employers.
What do we do? Currently, we get by with an inadequate and broken system that puts people on a waiting list for housing and mental health care but doesn’t solve the root problem. Our state lacks affordable housing, living-wage jobs, and Florida is last – dead last – for mental health care funding.
But Preston and Ed may have found a secret. We need each other. We crave connection, community, mutual support, encouragement and friendship. Everyone brings something to the table.
If you do anything during National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, don’t applaud, do something more. Make a new friend who is different and build a relationship to support one another. Lose the labels and advocate for better community-wide solutions, by volunteering, giving and being part of something more.
Preston was able to visit The Shop recently for a shower. The community’s support through partnerships at Love, Inc. and Gracepoint, helped to reopen this wonderful resource this year. Preston found an affordable apartment in a retirement community and moved in October. How’s he doing? He’s got a little help from friends including Reg, who goes to the same church with him and volunteers at Trinity Cafe. Reg helped him with furnishings, and Preston is beaming with pride at being stable again in his own home. Ed, Claire and Reg celebrated his progress and cheered him on.
They quit applauding and did something more! What will you bring to the table?
SOURCE: Trinity Cafe
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