EPIC staff members Keayea, Dave and Michelle (left to right) load trunk with bags of items for the homeless

​If you’ve traveled through St. Petersburg it’s likely that you have encountered a member of the homeless population in the city.

According to a 2019 report from the Homeless Leadership Alliance, Pinellas County has a substantial homeless population compared to other counties in Florida. Many of these individuals spend the majority of their time in St. Petersburg.

By providing the Social Action Funding grant, the City of St. Petersburg is helping local organizations like Empath Partners in Care (EPIC). Over the past year, EPIC has expanded their ability to connect homeless individuals with needed resources to improve wellbeing.

“For us, this is about being able to provide basic needs,” says Sheryl Hoolsema, director of EPIC in Pinellas County, a member of Empath Health. “Expanding our services to community members in need, regardless of HIV status, really ties into our mission statement.”

EPIC has a primary focus on providing care and prevention services to those impacted by HIV, as well as offering support for the LGBT community. Both groups are at a higher risk for homelessness than their peers.

As individuals come to EPIC for HIV testing, the coordinator can identify if there is a need for food or housing assistance. An on-site pantry is stocked with basic food and personal care items. The additional funding made it possible to offer other items, like shoes and tents.

Hygiene items are availble to those in need

In addition to items available at the EPIC office, outreach team members have brought food and supplies to areas where the homeless population gather. Not only has this provided an opportunity for education about services that are available, such as HIV testing, but it has also continued to build trust in the area.

“This population knows our team by name and recognizes our van when we are out in the community,” adds Hoolsema. “They’ve also introduced new people to our services.”

As a result of the increased outreach efforts made possible by the grant, EPIC has been able to engage with previously unidentified members of the homeless population. As more people are identified, they are connected to the appropriate services for their unmet needs.

The emergence of COVID-19 created another obstacle in providing for the homeless population. Many organizations that were previously relied on for food or personal supplies have not been able to provide these necessities. EPIC has been able to step into that void and ensure these items are getting to the people who need them.

EPIC is one of 14 community organizations to have received the Social Action Funding grant from the City of St. Petersburg in the past year.

Learn more about how Empath Partners in Care can provide care and support for you or a loved one impacted by HIV.