Former Harris TIPS School in St. Pete to house homeless teens

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The former Harris TIPS Drop-Out Prevention School on Haines Road in St. Petersburg will soon become a home to teens who have nowhere else to go at the end of the school day.

An old St. Petersburg school building is about to get a new life as a home for homeless teens.

For many, the first impression of the former Harris TIPS Dropout Prevention School at 4600 Haines Road is that it’s outdated. The building is covered in vines and chained with locks.

But homeless teens in the Bay area see the potential in the school as a place to call home.

“I don’t really think anyone understands how many kids are struggling in high school because they don’t have a place to go at the end of the day,” homeless teen Melanie DeCampos said.

DeCampos is one of more than 6,000 homeless, unaccompanied youth in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The non-profit “Starting Right, Now” wants to turn the old St. Petersburg facility into a mini-campus for those teenagers, such DeCampos, who are in need of a place to stay.

“These are not bad kids,” said founder Vicki Sokolik. “They’re kids who were dealt bad hands.”

The mini-campus will include separate boys and girls dorms, a training center and computer labs so students can successfully complete their studies.

“I feel like there’s a huge necessity to have something like this, where kids can finish high school and have a place to go at the end of the day and not worry about if they’re going to eat tonight, tomorrow or even the end of the week, ” DeCampos said.

“When you know where you’re going to sleep and eat every night, all of a sudden you can think,” Sokolik said.

The program has a 100 percent graduation rate for seniors who’ve been through their process.

The organization hopes to have the mini-campus up and running by the first of the year. They’ll have to wait until after a number of public hearings before work can begin.

For more information on Starting Right, Now visit http://startingrightnow.org/.

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