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St. Pete cracking down on homeless

The Tampa Tribune
News Channel 8
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 03:37 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Jail or shelter.

Those soon will be the sleeping options for homeless people in St. Petersburg.

City officials are banning sleeping, reclining or storing personal items on public sidewalks in their latest attempt to sweep the homeless out of downtown.

The city had been blocked previously because the ordinance authorizing the ban first required space to be available at local shelters.

But Mayor Bill Foster said those beds will become available by the middle of the month.

"If they choose sleeping on a street corner as a lifestyle, they'll need to pick a different community," he said.

The city long has sought to rid its public areas of the homeless, drawing national attention in January 2007 when police were recorded on video slashing the tents of homeless people. At the urging of downtown merchants and residents, the city continued adopting stricter laws in addition to offering homeless people a one-way bus ticket out of town.

The tactics drew a lawsuit from homeless advocates in 2009.

Jack McPherson, who has been on the streets for almost five years, said he would prefer a jail cell ahead of a shelter bed.

"It's not like we're robbing people, but OK, take me to jail," he said. "We're not hurting nothing. What we're doing is finding a place just to lay our head down; maybe we drink a little beer."

The extra shelter space is available, Foster said, because the county shelter Safe Harbor, which opened in January at 14400 49th St. N. in an old bus depot, is opening a courtyard.

Bob Gualtieri, chief deputy with Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, said it will add another 100 outside beds to the 370 inside.

Gualtieri said it is a more humane and economical option. "It costs $126 a day to house someone in the county jail; it costs $20 a day to house someone here," he said.

Foster said the goal is to provide a better option for the homeless, adding that they make downtown sidewalks more dangerous and impede visitors and business customers.

"We as a society can do better than a cardboard box," he said.

McPherson doubts enforcement will work.

"You're going to travel us way out there. We're going to come back. We'll be here tomorrow," he said. "We're just sleeping, leave us alone. This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem."

tbrennan@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7698

nshepherd@wfla.com

(813) 225-2703

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