St. Petersburg – Damien, Elisha, and Joshua watched in awe as their mother Lisa Schipper cut the red ribbon in front of their new home, located at 2000 43rd St. S, last Saturday, May 21.
“All the pieces came together today,” said Schipper as she spoke calmly, yet overwhelmed by the buildup of events that have unfolded in the last month.
Just six months ago, she and her three sons were sleeping pillar to post at either friends’ homes or with family. When they moved into a shelter, where they could only stay for a limited time period, Schipper came across information that would turn her life around.
“That’s where I got the application for the Pinellas County Housing Program,” said Schipper. She was assigned a case manager, and the search for a home began.
After her time ran out at the shelter, the family of four found themselves motel hopping, couch surfing or staying at a campground. She thanked God that she and the boys “never had to spend a night outside or sleeping in a car” although they “had to endure some pretty crappy situations in the hotel world,” she said.
One day, Schipper couldn’t take living on the edge anymore. She walked into her cases manager’s office and said: “Look, I don’t care where, what size, how much, I need a home.”
“From that day on, I’ve been able to put some of the pieces together. Now today I have all the key players sitting in my front yard,” she stated.
Pastor Bill Losasso and his staff at the Florida Dream Center, Wells Fargo Bank and Pinellas Human Services helped Schipper and her sons into a newly renovated home that had been foreclosed on by the city.
Losasso went to the county and asked if they would forgive the liens on a foreclosed home, and asked the bank to put the home’s title in the Florida Dream Center’s name.
“We will turn it into a doll house from a knock down so the county can put homeless families in them,” he proposed.
Family Housing Assistant Amanda Lampley is the case manager assigned to the Schipper family. She met them through the PIMMS Navigation Program at one of the shelters she was living in.
Lampley said that some of the families that she works with are from generational poverty.
“So they come to us with low paying jobs and just not enough to make ends meet,” said Lampley.
This was not the case with Schipper who had once worked a full-time corporate job before getting laid off. Not able to find work with comparable pay as her old job, she found herself homeless and caught up in a cycle of low wages.
Through the housing program, families not only receive assistance but are exposed to short-term training programs made available at Pinellas Technical College or St. Petersburg College. Also during this transitional period, families must attend mandatory financial fitness meetings that will provide them with the skills necessary to budget their money.
If the families have met their obligations during the first six months of being in the program, they become eligible for housing choice vouchers and have as much as an additional 12 months in the program to prepare themselves to save and meet their financial obligations after the program ends.
“Not all families need the full term of the housing program. Some have left the program early after getting the housing voucher. Some have been dismissed because they have not met their part of the obligations to remain in the program,” said Lampley.
James Martin compliments Lampley’s position. He is also a family housing assistant, but while Lampley works with the homeless families directly, Martin speaks to landlords and property managers.
“I’ve had a lot of success working with private landlords,” said Martin.
When landlords are not compliant, Martin then advocates for Lampley’s clients and other caseworkers to help make the system work as transparent as possible. He is also in charge of finding housing that can be used for the homeless.
Many hands played a role in helping Schipper become a homeowner; however, none of it would have been possible without Wells Fargo Bank donating the home to the Florida Dream Center.
“Mrs. Schipper and her three boys now have a place to call home,” said Michael Harpole, area president of Wells Fargo Bank.
Harpole emphasized that the joint effort to put homeless families into homes and give them a hand up proves that “it takes a village” to make good things happen in the community.
“To us no matter where you live, the sun should be shining on you and you have opportunities. We do that house by house, block by block,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“Lisa was actually the 106th family that the program has housed since July 2014,” said Lampley, emphasizing the rigor and determination of the city to try to help the homeless. She also punctuated the collaborative efforts of all agencies to help homeless families as a “hand up not a hand out.”
For additional information about the efforts of Florida Dream Center, they can be reached at (727) 240-0734. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services can be reached at (727) 582-7781.