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5/31/03 - Miami Herald

Doors open for homeless, Little Haiti complex offers stability, hope

By Trenton Daniel

Charles Rackley used to list his address as a Miami-Dade drug treatment agency, where he shared a congested room with five other recovering addicts. Before that, he did what many homeless people do -- he just bounced around from friend's house to friend's house, and having a personal address seemed an elusive prospect.

But today the 52-year-old freelance painter has an address to call his own: 6201 NE Second Ave., in Little Haiti.

''When you don't have your own address, you're homeless. No matter how you cut it,'' Rackley said Friday, flashing a wide smile. ``But now I am about to have my own place again.''

On Friday, the 10-year-old Carrfour Supportive Housing nonprofit unveiled a housing project for helping people such as Rackley get back on their weary feet after a period of homelessness: Little Haiti Gateway, a 79-unit apartment complex whose pastel hues recall native colors for most of the neighborhood's Haitian residents.

Seventy of the apartments are furnished efficiencies, and monthly rent is based on 30 percent of the tenant's income. The other nine are unfurnished one-bedroom units, reserved for tenants who make at or less than 60 percent of Miami-Dade County's median income. A centrally located picnic pavilion gives residents a place to hang out.

The total project cost about $4.2 million and was funded by Wachovia, Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Miami-Dade Housing Agency, and Florida Housing Finance Corporation, among other sources. That funding also covered the cost of the Little Haiti-Edison Credit Union on the premises.

Maria Pellerin Barcus, president and CEO of Carrfour Supportive Housing, said the project stands out because it offers not only affordable housing, but counseling services to Little Haiti's recovering addicts. Only tenants who have remained clean and sober for six months are permitted to move in. Counselors conduct drug tests at random.

''They need both housing and services,'' she said, referring to community residents who have struggled to get by. ``You have to provide supportive housing.''

Almost 7,500 people in Miami-Dade County are either on the streets or in shelters. Of that number, 4,422 live on the streets, the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust found in an April survey.

In a keynote address at Friday's ceremony, Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami recalled how he as an 18-year resident has seen the once-rundown neighborhood turn around. The area, he said, used to be rampant with prostitutes, crack addicts, slum lords, and even a violent religious cult -- ''the shadows of Miami,'' as he put it

But today the project is set to bring in a new era with the help of the sunlight-bright Carrfour apartments, he said.

''What was symbolic of the problem has become the solution,'' Wenski told his audience in a courtyard of the apartment complex.

``This is a symbol of the new Little Haiti.''

Carrfour's outreach was conducted primarily by word-of-mouth from its other projects in Miami-Dade.

Many neighborhood residents have inquired about getting applications, Berman said, but some in the area had not.

Malherbe Daniel, 44, a former dishwasher who said he lives under a bridge at 82nd Street, had not heard of the homeless-friendly complex.

''I don't know anything about that,'' Daniel said.

Still, others in Little Haiti see Gateway as a tangible way to help revive the neighborhood for its residents, many of them low-income.

''They don't want free rent, but a lot of Haitians in Little Haiti aren't working and don't have enough money to support their families,'' Jean Sanon, a hotel laundry room manager, said in his wife's boutique on Second Avenue. ``So [Gateway] was a very, very good idea.''