Friday, July 11, 2008

Treat homelessness with multiple methods:

The ranks of the homeless are growing, and so is the public's discomfort in communities not accustomed to seeing significant numbers of homeless people out and about — communities such as Tarpon Springs.

In the past, small numbers of homeless people camped in the woods around Tarpon Springs. They were seldom seen.

But now, downtown business owners are finding homeless people sleeping in their alleys or in vacant lots and are hearing complaints that their customers are being hit up for money on the sidewalks. Police are finding homeless people sleeping in city parks and along the Pinellas Trail.

Where the homeless congregate, public urination and litter have become a problem. And right or wrong, residents have come to believe that certain areas of the city are no longer safe because transients are there.

Late last month the Tarpon Springs City Commission responded to the increasing complaints by discussing the issue at a commission meeting. Most commissioners demonstrated that they understand the complexities of the homelessness problem and the challenge of addressing it.

Unlike some among the general public, commissioners know that not all homeless people are drug or alcohol abusers. Some have physical ailments that prevent them from working, or they have mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia that are untreated because they can't afford treatment or can't manage their own affairs. Many are veterans who can't find jobs or are suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.

Some homeless people work, but don't earn enough to afford shelter. In fact, according to a 2007 survey of the county's homeless by the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, 39 percent work full or part time.

Some had homes but have lost them in this dismal economy. The ranks of the homeless include families with children, who live in their cars or in vacant lots. In 2007, 18.5 percent of the Pinellas homeless were children.

Tarpon Springs officials are concerned that some of the homeless people in the city are coming from Pasco County. Some have wondered if the Shepherd Center, which provides a hot meal to the hungry along with other much-needed services for the poor, might be attracting more homeless people. Center officials denied that they draw the homeless to the city, but said that people who are hungry, no matter where they come from, should be fed. And they should.

Some speakers suggested that the city should turn a vacant building in the city into a shelter for the homeless, but with government budgets so stretched, few cities would take on the cost of operating a homeless shelter.

However, the commission was open to solutions that would not involve substantial costs, including these good ideas:

• Starting a business Crime Watch.

• Finding a way to distribute information about available services to homeless people.

• Researching ordinances some other Pinellas cities have created to outlaw aggressive panhandling.

• Talking with Pasco officials about ways to partner on solutions.

• Improving lighting in certain areas of downtown.

• Scheduling future workshops with area experts on the homeless.

Several speakers at the commission meeting addressed the terrible shortage of affordable housing in Tarpon Springs. Some of the working poor are homeless because they can't afford the market cost for housing. The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority is overwhelmed with 541 people on a waiting list for subsidized housing. Yet the city was cool to a recent overture from Pinellas County to participate in a countywide inclusionary housing ordinance that could spur the construction of more affordable housing.

Homelessness is growing. If Tarpon Springs wants to tackle the problem, it needs to do so from all angles.

A St. Petersburg Times Editorial Published Saturday, July 5, 2008 11:51 AM

Just finished reading your article. I am a Tarpon Springs frequent flyer, it is a place that I've gone to for years to shop or stroll through the sponge docks, get something to eat and just relax. Yes, there are the homeless that fell on hard times due to illness, loss of a supporting spouse, loss of a job. And you know what? These are the ones that ask for nothing more than to get help to open some doors so that they can get back to their regular lifestyles and be part of the mainstream within a reasonable amount of time. However, there are the homeless that have been homeless so long, or the one's that don't want any responsibilities like rent, keeping house, cooking, even working. Yes, there...I've said it! I know what's what, and who's who up in Tarpon. You cannot tell me different. Tarpon Springs is a conversation piece alright! The subject of the homeless in Tarpon quickly gets a lid put on it. Why? And who are the shielding parties? Shepherd Center, St. Timothy's Lutheran Church. They do NOTHING to move those homeless along. Instead they coddle them, feed, feed, and feed them some more, grease some of the palms, and make excuses for the homeless up there. What! You look surprised. Let me go on..., did you know that there are more (than just several) homeless up there that have been homeless in Tarpon for 15 (plus) years???? What gives?? These two religious organizations have spoiled the Tarpon homeless rotten. And trust me, these homeless get the last laugh. Oh, they know how to put on a cutesy act as if they are the 'nice' homeless. NO NO NO they are not nice! Ask anyone who has been threatened by them. Yes! Don't you know??? Tarpon homeless invite other newbies that suit their style. Small initiation fee, like a couple of beers...and, if you fit the bill...hey, you'll be a shoe-in. It's a joke that Tarpon! Those homeless have a Jerry Springer guest mentality. And you mean to tell me with all the experienced 'case managers' at Shepherd one can help these homeless? Or do they want help? Shepherd act like they don't have a clue as to where to send them. Once someone at Shepherd Center said that no one comes up there to give them any info on how to address a homeless individual with resources and such. Give me a break! Yet on their desk is a 2-1-1 directory as thick as a small phone book, and all kind of sheets ranging from Stars Program to Back to work programs for Felons. Come on now, don't tell me something stupid. Non of the homeless want to seek work anywhere else in Pinellas County because they say it's too far. Far from what? You're NOT a resident anywhere. Go, get a few bus passes and get some quality interviews in. Largo, Oldsmar, Pasco. They panhandle for beer, drugs, but they won't buy a couple of bus passes. Get outta here!!!! There's more to this people. Investigate. Ask questions. Don't donate without seeing who gets what. By the way, keep your shed locked up! And check your property when you come home from work. Come Saturday on your way up Pinellas Avenue to the Sponge Docks, you just might see some Homeless 'regulars' with card tables set up in front of a run down/closed up old house or station with some of your items from your shed and yard being sold! I've seen it done! Those homeless shouldn't be given any more chances after they get arrested, or get a warning for tresspassing. The police should tally up all the warning, arrests, and such for each of these homeless and run them out of town. Then... the true, deserving needy will be thankful and get the help cut and dry, and move on with their lives to be productive again. Hope this post makes it through!
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