HUDSON — Many mistakenly believe the longtime homeless shelter that for years was at the corner of U.S. 19 and Denton Avenue has shuttered, but thanks to a generous donation of a new plot of land, Holy Ground continues. But, “We sure could use some help getting the word out that we’re here,” said Lisa Barabas-Henry, founder and “chief cook and bottle washer” of the shelter, which has helped many in the sizable homeless population in northwestern Pasco County for the past 27 years.
“We desperately need donations,” she said. “People think we closed down and we haven’t been getting donations since last year.
Things are so bad right now the several residents at the shelter share one spatula and a single whisk. They have one can opener between them.
The shelter was ordered off the Denton Avenue property in December and it looked like it would shut down, but “an angel walked through the door the day before our final deadline,” said Barabas-Henry.
The property donated was a former motel and RV park at 17326 Otto Lane, just a bit north of the previous shelter location off the east side of U.S. 19. The property is two acres and has several one-bedroom units, a couple of apartments in a two-story out-building, another building that is being renovated now and several pads with hookups for RV units. Barabas-Henry and residents of the shelter have been whipping the facility into shape, painting, repairing fences and planting flowers since moving in just before Christmas.
“There was no real Christmas for us; no nothing,” Barabas-Henry said. The only food was what they brought and continues to be a primary need, along with pillows, sheets and blankets. Anyone interested in helping can contact Barabas-Henry at 727-863-9123.
While everyone has settled in and the new property has started to feel like home, there’s lots of work to do. Despite being a former motel and being mostly surrounded by industrial buildings, some neighbors in the area were not happy about the shelter coming to their neighborhood, said Barabas-Henry, and she’s been reported multiple times to Pasco County for code and fire inspections.
“We have some things we need to do, but the county is working with us on it and giving us time,” Barabas-Henry said, “It’s an everyday struggle getting everything right.”
Barabas-Henry said she is permitted to have up to 28 residents at the shelter before she has to comply with federal, rather than county, regulations, so her aim is to keep residency at that level or fewer. While some at the shelter stay only a day or two, the average is between three and four months, Barabas-Henry said.
A man known as Pastor Dan is one of the long-term residents. He ministers to residents and helps with chores. He credits Holy Ground with saving his life.
“Without this place, I’d probably be in the morgue or grave,” he said.
John, another resident feels much the same. His immediate goal is to “stay alive,” he said, something the shelter is helping him do.
Barabas-Henry said she extends a helping hand to anyone who needs it, but she expects residents to be respectful and to stay out of trouble. If they don’t they’re gone.
“I run a tight ship,” she said, adding residents who can, pay for their stay.
Barabas-Henry said the goal for those able is to find them jobs so they can leave the shelter and make it on their own. But it’s a difficult road for some, she said, but she’s determined to keep sheltering and feeding the homeless as long as she can.
“I own the place now, so I know I’m not going to have to be booted out,” she said. “That’s one good thing.”