TARPON SPRINGS — For years, officials from the Shepherd Center have begged the city for help.
Last week, they got their wish.
Following a recent town hall meeting held by the Board of Commissioners to address the city’s homeless issues, Shepherd Center Executive Director Ada Del Gais said she hoped city officials, police and merchants could work together to assist the homeless outreach facility at 304 S. Pinellas Ave.
“The city has a desire to work with us, and I believe we will be able to make some changes in the next three months,” Del Gais said after the Feb. 2 meeting. “We look forward to working together because the only way we can do what needs to be done is to work together as a community. We can’t do it alone.”
Six weeks later, Del Gais was overjoyed when the aforementioned community leaders, including Mayor Chris Alahouzos, City Manager Mark LeCouris and newly installed Police Chief Jeffrey Young oversaw the relocation of an old wooden gazebo from the front of the property to the rear, turning what was long a public gathering spot for the homeless into an ideal addition for the new Hope Center courtyard out back.
“After that meeting, Police Chief Young came to me and asked me what we needed,” Del Gais said from the site of the St. Patrick’s Day move on March 17. “And I said I’d love to move the gazebo to the Hope Center, but we don’t have funds to do it. Two days later he said, ‘We got it!’”
The structure, which reportedly sat outside the building for more than a decade and showed signs of wear but no rot, was carefully loaded onto a flatbed trailer donated by locally owned Bradford’s Towing and driven around back to the Hope Center, a recent addition to the facility that houses a kitchen, showers, offices and a fenced-in courtyard. A small crowd cheered when it finally settled on the soft, green grass.
As he watched the process, Alahouzos said “the Shepherd Center is doing a very good job providing services to homeless people and people in need in general and I’m glad we were able to do this, to work together as a community and be on the same page for a common cause to help people in need. It’s happened, and as time goes by, we’ll do more.”
Chief Young, who was sworn in to replace retiring Chief Robert Kochen on March 9, said community engagement projects like these would continue to be a priority for the department under his leadership.
“This gazebo had been a topic of discussion for years and this is the way to solve a problem, and this is what happens when a community works together,” Young said while crediting LeCouris, Sgt. Ed Miller and Bradford’s Towing for making the move happen. “This is going to benefit the Hope Center, the homeless and the community. So, it’s a win-win-win all the way around.”
Del Gais added she was “so happy we finally have the police department, the community, and the merchants working together, and I feel like we’re going to make things happen in Tarpon Springs like we’ve talked about for the longest time. And I’m really excited about it. When I spoke at the BOC meeting, I never imagined this could be possible. But to have the mayor, city commissioners and Chief Young here, this is incredible. It’s been amazing.”