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Organization helps homeless in Miami Beach

Special to The Miami Herald
More than a month ago, Richard Carter left his hometown of New York — recently laid off, unable to pay his rent and hoping to find a job in South Florida.

But Carter hasn’t been able to find employment — instead, he’s been living on the streets of Miami Beach.

“I’ve been down. It is way too difficult,” said Carter, who hoped for better opportunities in the Sunshine State. “I’ve been going through some setbacks.”

Carter, along with 80 other homeless people received free haircuts Aug. 1 at Miami Beach Community Church, part of an event sponsored by HOPE in Miami Beach that helped 274 homeless people with free food, medical aid, clothing and haircuts.

The haircut was especially important to Carter, who said he had lined up a job interview, but didn’t have money to pay for a trim.

“I need to make a good impression,” said Carter, who declined to say what kind of employment he was looking for.

“I am humbled to hear others have it worse than me.”

The nonprofit organization HOPE has three offices in Miami-Dade County. The agency started organizing similar events at the historic Miami Beach church, at 1620 Drexel Ave., in 2002. Since then, the event has been held every other month. The effort is spearheaded by HOPE founder and television personality Rev. Pedro Martinez.

“Whenever we help out the homeless, we are doing ourselves a favor,” said Martinez, who preaches at Iglesia Cristiana Amor in West Miami-Dade and is a fixture on the Spanish-language variety show La Cosa Nostra. “Any community that has people living on the streets, always the quality of living is not going to be the same. It’s going to be worse.”

Martinez, along with more than 70 volunteers hit the streets of Miami Beach to pass out fliers to get the word out about the event. The Miami Beach Community Church also works with the nonprofit to promote the event and accept donations.

“It’s a great feeling that as a community we are able to give them a hand,” Martinez said.

Martinez says more than 200 pounds of food were donated by distributors and local restaurants like Maya Tapas & Grill, which donated enough pasta to feed 250 people.

“We are blessed to be able to give back some of what we receive and believe in helping those who are less fortunate,” said Rolando Maya, owner of the Miami Beach restaurant.

Also on the menu: sausages, roasted beef, bagels and dessert, coffee and soda. Organizers also got donations of clothing, eyewear and shoes.

Another nonprofit, Solidary, donated brand-new pairs of pants.

Like Carter, Alfredo Rodriguez, who has lived on the streets for almost a year, enjoyed his haircut.

“It’s nice to see the church helping out people in need,” said Rodriguez, who sat on a chair in a makeshift barbershop on the church’s walkway while volunteer Gori Giliberti shaved him bald using electric clippers.

“I need a haircut. It is really hot out here because of the heat,” he said.

Martinez came up with the idea after spending time on the beach with his wife, Maria Martinez. He noticed the city’s large homeless population.

“This is when I told myself, `God someone needs to do something about this,’ ” he said. “I asked God, and he told me I should do something about it.”

The city of Miami Beach’s homeless outreach program also came in to lend a hand.

“I took the city vehicle at 7 a.m. and picked up several people off Miami Beach streets and drove them to the event,” said Bo Hall, who works for the homeless outreach program.

Martinez adds that he has seen a recent influx of families seeking help — a sign of tough economic times.

“We have seen an increase of more families,” he said. “Some of the people used to work in the construction industry and now are finding themselves with nothing.”

As for Carter, he is optimistic that his job interview will go well.

“The lesson learned is even when in doubt your spirit will lead to blessings,” said Carter, who carried in his hands a bag packed with donated food.

The Miami Beach Community Church accepts donations from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For information or donations, visit www.hopeinmiamibeach.org.

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