Palm Harbor teen builds front yard Halloween haunt to benefit homeless

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PALM HARBOR, Fla. (WFLA) – A budding architect in Palm Harbor is using a massive Halloween haunt he built to benefit the homeless.

Andrew Long and his family started their front yard display five years ago with a few Dollar Store tombstones.

It’s grown to a mausoleum prop, working animatronics, lights and even scented fog.

“We’ve gotten ideas online. We’ve got inspiration from other people that have done it before us and we just keep on learning more and more about prop building, about building in general and we’ve just gotten better at it and it’s turned out to be a huge success so far,” Long said.

This huge success is benefitting the Homeless Empowerment Program in Clearwater.

Long made the decision last year to use what he’s built to do some good.

“I’ve done work with them before, helping out in the soup kitchen. And we thought that would be a perfect charity since we’ve done work with them and I support what they’re doing. We wanted to spread awareness,” he explained.

HEP assists men, women, families with children and a high population of veterans with housing, clinics and food. The program served over 1,100 people last year and provided 117,000 meals.

“But really our whole goal is to get to the root of the problem, why somebody has come to us, why they need our services and what we can do to help them move back out into the community,” HEP Marketing Director Rebecca Adams said.

Adams said HEP got a phone call from the Long family last year.

“They said, ‘is this something you would be interested in? We want to do a haunted house and we want to support your program,’” Adams explained. “So we thought, ‘this is very unique’ so absolutely we jumped on board and it’s been a huge fundraiser for us and just really, really interesting way to see the community get together and raise money to support people in need.”

Long donated around $2,000 to HEP last year. Donations for 2019 are close to $1,000, and their events have not started yet.

Long has been working on new, creepy things to add to the display since November of last year. His favorite is a demon prop that actually pops out at visitors from a contraption he built at his front door.

“It is one of those props that it’s all the work we’ve done so far has led up to it. All the things we’ve learned about pneumatics, engineering has led up to that prop. It’s just one of those things that we’re very proud of and excited to show off. So hopefully we can scare some people with it!” Long said.

The prop is part of the additional scares at the haunt this year.

“Be ready for some scare actors to be dragging shovels, chainsaws, air horns, jumping out at you,” Long warned.

Adams wants the community to know that homelessness could happen to anybody.

“Anybody could end up in a situation that most of our residents are in. Mental illness, loss of a job, just an illness and missing work and losing a paycheck for a couple days or even a couple weeks. It’s very hard to regain that independence and get back on your feet. It just can happen very quickly,” she said. “You have people in your family that have probably been very close to homelessness and just to know that there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re human like we all are and they need help.”

“You could come here and donate if you would like, but more importantly we want to spread awareness about the organization itself and let people know what it’s all about,” Long said.

You can visit Andrew Long’s Haunt for HEP on Halloween, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at 3425 Brian Road South in Palm Harbor.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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