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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
Editorials

Tampa targest homeless complaints

Published:

The city of Tampa is taking a reasonable approach to dealing with complaints about homeless people who spend their days and nights in and around downtown.

After hearing from business owners, the City Council has given tentative approval to two measures that will help police target offensive conduct that is bad for business, bad for public health and bad for the city's image.

By no means are these measures a solution to the complex and ongoing homeless problem. But taken together, they give police an added tool in addressing legitimate complaints from businesses and the public.

One measure bans aggressive panhandling outside restaurants and other public places. The other bans living in public parks, storing personal possessions in public places, and defecating and urinating in public.

The offensive activity is particularly bad from the city north to Tampa Heights, where agencies that help the homeless are located.

To hear Mayor Bob Buckhorn tell it, nearby Bourquardez Park has become a homeless encampment. Business owners complain about the effect on their customers and their workers. And the activity is hurting efforts to revitalize that part of the city.

Homeless advocates fear the city will use the bans to treat the homeless like criminals. But police say they will negotiate with violators, rather than use the bans to engage in a wholesale jailing of the homeless.

"Our intention is not to arrest our way out of this problem," said Tampa police Capt. Marc Hamlin. "This helps us force people to get help when they don't want to help themselves."

Therein lies the dilemma for police, and for governments seeking a solution. For those homeless who do want to help themselves, there aren't enough places offering the services they need.

The city and the county worked together to open a 24-unit housing complex near the University of South Florida, but that is far from adequate to serve the estimated 700 chronically homeless people in Tampa.

An effort four years ago to establish a tent city for the homeless near the Florida State Fairgrounds failed to pass after neighborhoods closest to the proposed site pressured a majority of the County Commission to reject the proposal.

That's too bad. The tent city, known as Hillsborough Hope, offered the best solution to confronting the homeless problem with compassion and with an eye toward helping the homeless get back on their feet.

Let's hope the debate about these new measures reignites the idea of establishing a temporary home for homeless people in need of a helping hand.

In the meantime, the city has a responsibility to crack down on offensive behavior.

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