For many years in the early 1990's, an ever increasing number of concerned citizens, city officials, and service providers spent a great portion of their lives trying to design a program which would positively address the needs of the homeless and the impact that their plight has upon all of the Clearwater community.
In 1993, Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein responded to growing concerns on the presence, problems and the needs of homeless individuals presenting themselves in the near-downtown area of Clearwater. Chief Klein recommended to the Clearwater City Commission that a special task force be established to determine alternatives for the city to deal with homelessness within our community. From the outset, the task force tried to be responsive to the needs of the total community - including residents, the business community, and the homeless themselves - with the goal of finding a solution to local homelessness that was logical, realistic, and long lasting. The task force shied away from Band-Aid approaches and programs which would just hide the homeless out-of-sight.
As a pilot project, the task force established a temporary cold night shelter in a vacant building on the edge of downtown at Cleveland St. and Missouri Ave. in an effort to better understand the numbers and types of issues that our homeless population presents. The number seeking shelter at that first facility disturbingly exceeded all expectations; yet through the cooperation and partnership of Everybody's Tabernacle, the Clearwater Police Department, and The Salvation Army, the winter shelter program survived that first winter.
The task force then proceded to design a program that would not only shelter individuals, but would boldly confront the homeless about those problems which caused them to become homeless, and the barriers that prevented them from securing housing and becoming self sufficient. The Salvation Army, which had already begun a day center operation for the homeless, agreed to operate, on a trial basis, a night shelter on the grounds of Everybody’s Tabernacle on North Betty Lane. Everybody's Tabernacle was an established street ministry founded by the Reverend Otis Green and his wife Barbara and would later incorporate the Homeless Emergency Project (H.E.P.), a partner organization with CHIP in providing local homeless intervention services. The Clearwater Police Department, recognizing the need for an overnight shelter and envisioning a drop-off center as an alternative to incarceration, donated a doublewide mobile home for the shelter project. Working in concert with the task force, the City Commission aided the project with funding and variances. But the 15-bed facility which began at Everybody’s Tabernacle and later moved to a Salvation Army facility on Pierce Street, was not enough - the shelter was filled to capacity every night. A larger facility was required.
The task torce, which continued to add additional members who could bring new insight and additional resources, transcended into what we today know as CHIP - the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project, a IRS-registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The group continued to search for a suitable property that would provide accessibility to the homeless, affordability on limited resources, sufficient space for case management and counseling services, and density zoning that would accommodate the most people. The St.Vincent de Paul Society stepped forward and offered a property adjacent to their existing Soup Kitchen on Park St. Not only did the property have the space that was needed for the best possible program, but the connection to an existing service for this population meant that the homeless would not have to travel across town to get from one service to another.
A police substation was planned within the facility to be staffed by bicycle-equipped officers. This unique police program, funded by a grant from the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program of the U.S. Department of Justice, would assist the CHIP program, provide security, and make an important contribution to the sense of community in the neighborhood and the planned redevelopment of downtown Clearwater. CHIP also established a Neighborhood Advisory Council of CHIP officials and neighborhood residents who worked to build an effective partnership between the CHIP shelter and its neighbors. The Neighborhood Advisory Council became a springboard for community action, pride, neighborhood crime watch, and neighborhood cleanup, all with the full cooperation and participation of CHIP staff and clients.
CHIP became not just another homeless shelter, but rather an expression of everything that is good about our City: citizens, officials, social service professionals, businesses, and private residents alike banding together to find a solution to a the common problem of homelessness. From critical human needs such as food and shelter, to nuisance activity such as loitering, littering, addictions, vandalism, and exploitation of the poor - all are problems related to homelessness that we knew we must address, together, in a realistic way. CHIP became a project that would create a continuum of service and opportunities to enable any individual - who so chooses - to actively and responsibly solve the problems that contribute to their homeless condition. CHIP would become their way out.
But make no mistake about it, CHIP is demanding. Three words govern our mission - Compassion, Respect, and Responsibility.
First - Compassion:
The natural compassion that we should and do feel for our fellow human beings is the reason we care about what happens to the homeless. It is what causes our community to pitch in and provide the minimal comforts that sustain a life, regardless of who they are or why they are homeless. But it is also the driving force that causes us to wonder why an individual is languishing on the streets. CHIP uses this drive to ask the simple but tough questions, in order to assess each persons unique needs and what they must do to overcome their plight.
Second - Respect.
CHIP respects the basic human rights and dignity of every individual, whether homeless or not. Respect is earned, not simply assumed. Clients are expected to treat one another with respect, to respect the CHIP program and its volunteers and staff, and respect the law and private property - or pay the consequences as we all must do.
And finally - Responsibility.
The CHIP program of shelter, employment, counseling, savings plan, housing opportunities, and eventually independent living requires that every person take responsibility for their own actions. CHIP fully expects its clients to contribute to their own well being and take positive steps toward solving their problems. In its broadest context, CHIP guides the homeless in accessing services around town, and challenges them - through partnership with the police department - to respect the rights of others and to conduct themselves in a responsible manner while they are on the streets. By the same token, CHIP challenges all of us to pitch in with financial support, resource development, jobs and decent, affordable housing.
CHIP is not just a shelter, but a community center that provides both shelter and problem solving. CHIP is "ground zero" for Clearwater’s unified effort in building a way out of homelessness for those who will meet the challenge.