Officials with the Shepherd Center, a Tarpon Springs nonprofit that provides goods and services to the homeless and needy, recently announced plans to add a 1,600-square-foot Hope Center at the back of their South Pinellas Avenue headquarters.

TARPON SPRINGS – Shepherd Center officials say they’re moving forward with a planned expansion of their downtown Tarpon Springs headquarters.

According to the nonprofit’s marketing director, Fred Howard, a ribbon cutting ceremony will be scheduled in the next week for the Hope Center, a 1,600-square-foot space located behind the organization’s South Pinellas Avenue food pantry and thrift store. The addition will feature a serving kitchen, laundry room, office and dining space, an outdoor patio and restrooms with showers.

“We finally obtained the permits and raised all the money needed to move forward with a project that has been a dream the Shepherd Center has been trying to accomplish for 20 years,” Howard said. “This is a game-changer for the homeless and indigent, to be able to get a hot meal and change clothes, to bathe. This is a big deal.”

When the project was announced last year, Shepherd Center officials estimated the cost at $200,000, with a stated goal of raising $50,000 to start construction.

Howard said the work, which is being overseen by local architect Ed Hoffman would start as soon as the contractor is ready, and he estimated the build-out would take roughly 60-90 days.

“The design stage is complete, the money is raised and we’re just finalizing the contractor agreements,” he said.

Howard said he believes Tarpon’s homeless counts have been greatly exaggerated. The county cites 49, while it’s actually closer to 21 to 24, he said. Nevertheless, he stressed, the Hope Center, combined with the other services the Shepherd Center provides, would go a long way toward improving lives.

“To know that anyone can get a meal, take a shower, stay clean and get help any day of the week goes a long way to maintaining stability and integrity and helps the homeless and indigent get a job and get off the streets,” Howard said. “The people of Tarpon Springs can be incredibly proud of that fact.”