aerial view of city buildings near body of water

The Tampa CW Story: Finding a Home

This is the sixth in a continuing series of articles about how to start a Catholic Worker community, told through the lived experience of the Tampa Catholic Worker.

Welcome back to our series of articles about how we started Florida’s latest and (for now) the only Catholic Worker community, Dorothy Day Tampa (DD Tampa).

In our previous posts, we shared the influence of the Catholic Worker vision and mission in developing a Dorothy Day House in Tampa. We discussed our decision to establish a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality utilizing our unique media and messaging approach. This was followed by an in-depth article that addressed fundraising. Our overall strategy is designed to align with Dorothy’s vision and stay true to the core values of the Catholic Worker movement as we introduce the concepts of a revolution of the heart and radical hospitality to the local Tampa community and beyond.

Our long-term goal of providing affordable housing, resources, and community to the homeless means that we must seek support through prayer, volunteerism, and fundraising. Contemplative prayer and volunteer action are at the heart of DD Tampa and – as Dorothy emphasized – contemplation and action are at the heart of social justice. Through prayer (contemplation) and volunteerism (action) we are building our ministry and laying the cornerstone for our House of Hospitality. As word of Dorothy Day Tampa spreads throughout the area, we attract volunteers, as well as the local media, and an assortment of curious onlookers drawn to the authenticity of the Catholic Worker Movement’s message of hope, dignity, and love.

That leads us to site selection. We are currently ‘homeless’ and seek a centrally located storefront, building, 3+ bedroom home, unused church building, vacant lot, or distressed property of any kind to be rehabbed by our volunteers  However, with the current state of housing in the U.S. generally, and in Tampa, in particular, it is no surprise that finding an affordable location for DD Tampa is proving to be a challenge. Since the formation of DD Tampa in early 2022, we have been in prayerful discernment for a suitable opening ministry location. When communicating our need for a permanent home to the media, through our newsletter, and on our website, we have framed the needs as a “missing resource;” one that will help us achieve our initial goal of an opening location where we can offer resources, services, food, friendship, etc. This will also help fill existing resource gaps for homeless individuals and families in the area.

What would an opening location look like for DD Tampa? We envision a 3-4 + bedroom home or suitable space for our guests, with a spacious kitchen with pots of soup on the stove, full coffee pots, sandwiches, snacks and water in the fridge, bath / showers, laundry equipment and a large dining room for meals, guest hospitality, conversations, guest speakers and prayer services.

The ideal space would be 1,500 – 2,500 sq. foot Tampa facility in any workable condition. The property’s location is important, too, as it needs to be conveniently located, accessible to public transportation and community resources. An unused church space would be a great option and provide  access to church volunteers and resources. Also, distressed properties offer our 50 + volunteers’ opportunities to refresh and outfit the property. Securing an opening location provides an opportunity to fine tune our service offerings before any consideration of expansion to a larger facility. 

Challenges we face in securing an opening location for Dorothy Day Tampa:

  • The ongoing affordable housing crisis is increasing the numbers of residents forced into homelessness.
  • Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa are pushing the resource insecure out of downtown into other areas, primarily northward.
  • The city of Tampa police department continuously shuts down feeding sites – Hands of Hope now feeds its guests under the I-275 freeway.
  • Commercial property landlords are not willing to risk liability of renting to a nonprofit serving the homeless.
  • NIMBYism – Not in My Backyard – is a prevalent undercurrent, if not attitude, among homeowners and in many of the locations and neighborhoods we have explored.
  • Neighborhood Associations aggressively oppose any type of homeless drop-in center.

Potential solutions to secure an opening Dorothy Day Tampa location:

  • Aggressively canvass and identify unused / under-utilized spaces in an existing facility and space suitable for subletting.
  • Explore securing a location like Sacred Heart Church North Campus – formerly Sacred Heart Academy.
  • Explore vacant / unused properties of the County, City of Tampa, and for Tampa, the Tampa, Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. (THHI)
  • Team with an existing ministry with available space – e.g., Metropolitan Ministries / Gracepoint / Crisis Center – to enhance the services of both organizations.
  • Find and secure a developer that is sensitive to nonprofits’ need for operating space and limited budget.

Our goal is to identify a suitable opening space in 2023 and occupy the space in 2024. To achieve that we need to be diligent and keep this need in the forefront of all our community interactions.

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Ps 46:10

Next up in our series: #7 – Volunteer Training & Management – How to recruit, engage, acknowledge, and retain volunteers.

To view all of the articles in this series, visit the The Dorothy Day Tampa Story page. For more advice on starting a Catholic Worker house, see: How to Start A Catholic Worker Community.

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