Metropolitan Ministries is renovating and expanding its MiraclePlace campus just north of downtown Tampa. It's home to homeless children and families until they can get back on their feet.
Families previously stayed in a 200-square-foot room with a couple of bunk beds against the walls and a small bathroom to the side. Mandy Cloninger of Metropolitan Ministries said the single light overhead was an example of how this small room wasn't enough.
"We had a mom studying for her accounting certificate sitting cross-legged on the bottom of this bunk, wearing a miner's light on her head," Cloninger said.
That was then. Now, 52 families will be able to live in apartments twice the size of the old ones with furniture, a small living space, a desk area and a bigger bathroom.
Cloninger said it's the little things that matter.
"The rugs, the sheets, the towels, the little pillow pets for our children; they're all those little elements that help to make this a home for our families," Cloninger said.
The money to construct and furnish these new apartments mostly comes from business and community donations. The goal is to raise $23 million to finish the whole project. So far, Metropolitan Ministries is about $8 million short.
The first phase of the project includes constructing the new apartments, renovating the old ones for emergency stays by next February, expanding the dining room and constructing an education, day care and counseling center.
Tour guide Amy Elam calls this place home. She told us MiraclePlace provides her and the other residents with the life skills workshops and education they need to get back on their feet.
"Being homeless is tragic enough, but we come with a little more baggage," Cloninger said.
Elam used to live in Georgia, where she worked as a waitress. Her husband was self-employed.
"I was working, but I was a waitress and you know that also depends on the economy and whether people are in a good mood or in a bad mood," Elam said.
Elam, her husband and her 12-year-old daughter moved into a hotel where they lived for about six months. At that point, she says her husband got into an altercation with a neighbor and was sent to jail. Ten days later, Elam was robbed at gunpoint and had to be hospitalized for a fractured jaw. Shortly after, her daughter was hospitalized with double pneumonia.
"It happened all within a month. So it was very traumatic for us," she said, "I was scared. I was scared, my husband wasn't there."
She moved to Tampa with a stepsister, used up all her savings to move into a trailer and then lost her job.
"Thinking that I'm a waitress, I can get another job, no big deal, my husband has all these skills and he had joined us," she said, "and it just didn't happen."
The money ran out quickly.
"We were living in that trailer for about six weeks with no power which meant no cooking facilities," Elam said. "Who knew it could be so cold in Tampa? It's supposed to be warm, it was cold! My daughter was cold."
Elam found Metropolitan Ministries a week before she got evicted. She's been living there for three months.
"Someone asked me what the difference is between the old room and the new room and my daughter saw it on Friday and she just cried," Elam explained. "She said, 'Mommy, I have my own room again.' My daughter and I are very close but you don't realize those little things that she's used to and they're able to give that back to us now."
The second phase of the project will include constructing a K-5 school through a partnership with the Hillsborough County Public Schools, a recreation center and a chapel.