St. Pete case sheds light on challenges for homeless families

Help is available, but space sometimes limited
Posted at 8:39 PM, Jun 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-15 20:51:40-04

A recent St. Petersburg case is shedding light on a bigger issue.

Niesha Henderson, 23, died after getting stuck inside a window Tuesday. Her 9-month-old baby was sitting in a stroller below when police arrived. We're told she was homeless and had stayed at the house where she died in the past. Apparently she was desperate enough for a place to go, she tried climbing her way in.

We've learned Henderson had received homeless help in the past, but for some reason ended up back on the streets. There are many other families in the same situation right now. In fact, in St. Pete alone, there are at least 100 homeless families. But for them, and those nearing similar trouble, there is hope and help.

The St. Pete Police homeless outreach team hits the streets every day offering any help they can. But they admit, housing families is one of the biggest challenges they face.

"I could have 50 single adults walk up to me right now, and I literally have services that could get 50 folks off the street right now. But when I have a family call, yeah, it is a scramble," said Richard Linkiewicz, St. Pete Police homeless outreach officer.

There are about a dozen shelters in Pinellas County that serve families. The St. Pete Free Clinic is one of them, and it goes beyond putting a roof over their heads.

"It's a supportive environment. So we provide them with all the tools and services they need so they can then leave and be independent long-term," said clinic development director Debbie Sokolove.

Darlene Loveless says a long battle with substance abuse pushed her to the brink of homelessness. A friend told her about the clinic's transitional housing program. She's now sober and learning the skills to be successful.

"When you come here, they give you a budget. You have to follow it and you have to have goals," Loveless said.

At 62, she still wants to contribute and repair broken relationships with her daughter and grandkids. The clinic says for each family, they work to figure out how best to help the whole family, and there's no shame in asking for help.

"What's important to know is that they're taking care of themselves and their children. They need to do what's best, because once they get into that difficult situation, the harder it is to get out. So the sooner you ask for help, the better," Sokolove said.

Loveless is glad she got help and knows she'll be back on her feet in no time.

The easiest way to get connected to help is by calling 211. For the St. Pete Free Clinic's services, call them at 727-821-1200.