Thursday, March 15, 2007

In St. Petersburg, as homeless pull up stakes, some entrench:

The city on Wednesday began coaxing about 75 homeless people to leave a group of sidewalks near downtown for a lot it controls.

It will not be an easy task.

Advocates for the homeless immediately likened the new site to a prison camp, while an area church proceeded with plans to open its own tent city despite the city's objections.

About 12 people did move to the city site Wednesday, Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis said.

Others seemed ready to resist. They were preparing to stay at the 18th Street site, and possibly be arrested, or move to the Lakewood United Church of Christ on 54th Avenue S.

Parishioners there voted Sunday to open their own 30-tent encampment.

The Rev. Kim Wells said church officials may ask for a permit to run the tent city, but are not sure if a church even needs one.

"The church is about offering hospitality to people who need it," Wells said.

City officials say any property owner must obtain a permit before allowing people to sleep outdoors, meaning the church might face fines if it moves ahead.

The church chose to open its doors after speaking with the Rev. Bruce Wright, an advocate for those living in tents on 18th Street. Wright said there will not be enough room for everyone at the city site - a claim city officials deny.

Council member Jamie Bennett accused Wright and another advocate, Eric Rubin, of exploiting the church and the homeless as part of their own political agenda.

"They're just going to keep fighting us," Bennett said. "They're going to pick up their band of merry men and going to go somewhere else.

"This has to stop."

People who live near the church met Wednesday night to discuss how to fight the church's proposal, Bennett said.

Wells said the church has fielded fewer than 20 complaints.

"We've complied. We've tried to help," Bennett said. "Every politician is on the same page. This is all because Eric Rubin and Bruce (Wright) are going to lose their pre-eminence."

City officials and advocates both converged on the 18th Street encampment Wednesday afternoon to rally support for their own cause.

Advocates called the city's actions subterfuge.

A few people said they wouldn't mind moving.

Daniel Nelson was among the first to decide to move. "We just went through some problems here," Nelson said.

But several others seemed dug in.

"Over there is dirty and a lot of trouble," said Vera Blaine. "Here we watch out for each other."

People relaxed near their tents or napped on chaise longues while the city and advocates held their discussion.

"They're turning it into a permanent prisoner camp," said Wright, pointing to rules requiring residents to have their photographs made and to wear wristbands.

The City Council is expected today to ban tents on city streets and sleeping in the public right-of-way.

If both measures pass, city officials said the people would have to leave or face being arrested.

Business owners in the area have been demanding action for weeks.

"It's about ... time," said Brian Longstreth, a real estate agent active in the nearby neighborhood association.

by Aaron Sharockman who can be reached at

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?