Foster loses unanimous support of proposed shelter
ST. PETERSBURG -- When Mayor Bill Foster unveiled plans for a new shelter next to the Pinellas County jail on 49th Street last week to the Homeless Leadership Network, nobody opposed it.
The board of elected officials, agency heads, and homeless advocates reacted with a vote the endorsed the concept. While no one voted against the plan, it did have one person abstain. That was G.W. Rolle, a homeless advocate who at the time had reservations about the plan, but wasn't against it.
That changed this week. Rolle sent an e-mail stating that he now opposed it, calling the shelter the futher criminalization of a condition that the economy controls, not behavior. Here's what Rolle wrote:
I wasn't quite prepared to vote no to the plan presented to the
Homeless Leadership network at that point. I thought about it and
concluded that the plan was not feasible. Below I list the reasons
why. I hope you will read it. If you do,please read A Modest Proposal
as well.Thank you.
A Emphatic No
It is with weighted thought and deep regret that I must vote NO to
the homeless shelter being proposed by the City of St Petersburg and
the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department. As homeless advocates we are
presumably conscientious and dedicated making certain that our
homeless are given every possible opportunity to access gainfully
employment and housing and security against those who wish the
In the five years since we enacted our homeless plan, better known
as The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, we have actually seen our
numbers increase due to no fault of our own. This increase is due to
the reasons which make people homeless. From ageing out of foster
care, to fleeing domestic abuse, to unemployment and under employment,
to post traumatic stress disorder, to untreated mental illness, to
house fires to catastrophic illness, from prison dumping to patient
dumping, it seems we’ve heard it all.
The reasons for homelessness are different from the cause for
homelessness in one aspect. The cause of homelessness is, People do
not have a place to live!
We can go many places for an answer to homeless problems. We can go
around the block, we can go to the moon and we can go to Texas. The St
Petersburg Times on Sunday suggested that we go to Clearwater and see
what Barbara Green is doing. It doesn’t matter where we go to shop for
answers. if we do not have housing as our end goal, we will fail.
If I am correct, the Mayor of St Petersburg and the Pinellas County
Sheriff’s office devised this plan to deal with specific problems
which the city and the sheriff’s department have. The city’s problem
is the visible homeless who will after Friday’s Homeless Leadership
Network meeting will be evermore referred to as “The Chronic”. Mayor
Bill Foster, who coined the phrase, defines The Chronic as those
homeless on the street who go to the bathroom when no bathrooms are
supplied, stand in long lines for feeding, panhandle outdoor diners
and sleep in front of City Hall. The “Unplaceables” he said. The
Chronic also refers to those who have no choice but to use public
property as a public storage facility. The mayor vowed to get rid of
The Chronic some months ago, revealing his desire to rid downtown of
embarrassing homeless people in time for tourist season. The sheriff’s
office has its own problem with homelessness and it revolves around
the flooding of the jail with people who have been arrested for
homeless ordinances. With a 70% recidivism rate, the jail is bursting
at its seams with old problems, and the homeless are stretching jail
resources to the breaking point.
The mayor and the sheriff’s office devised a plan. The PSTA bus
garage which was seriously considered almost four years ago for a
homeless one stop service center and shelter, once again came into
play. The bus garage was used as a jail annex to house low impact
prisoners, until budget constraints force jail officials to close it.
. It has the capacity to hold five hundred people. This facility will
be divided into three sections, one for homeless men, one for homeless
women, and one for returning ex convicts fresh from the state
. A consultant from Texas was employed with an eight month contact
at 5,300 dollars a month This expert has told St Petersburg official
that hot food enables the homeless. He has observed that he could walk
a two block circle and be fed five times. He said as long as there is
hot food, and showers and restroom facilties; the homeless will never
leave downtown. The city and this expert have made overtures to some
of our feeding partners and asked them to not feed the homeless.
The sheriff’s office has said that when the facility opens ,those
arrested on homeless ordinance violations will be given a choice: Go
to the annex, or go to jail.
The mayor of St Petersburg has answered the fears of “If you build
it, they will come.” by assuring us that,” This will be no place of
The plan calls for the homeless to live outside on a concrete slab
in a courtyard at first, and through incentives move indoors to mats
on a concrete floor. The food will be cold, but through incentives the
homeless will gradually get hot food. Armed security will be onsite
twenty four hours a day. The Texas Expert believes in incentives.
“It’s important that you reward good behavior and punish bad
Five Reasons that I am voting No.
1)The Plan Will Escalate the Criminalization of the Homeless. The plan
as it stands would by necessity increase arrests among the homeless,
in order for “the choice” of going to jail or going to the annex to
seem like a viable threat, and to provide population for the facility.
Not only that but also because when I brought up this concern in the
meeting the mayor smiled and The Texas expert snickered.
2)The Plan would send us adrift from the Ten Year Plan: This plan has
absolutely nothing to do with our ten year plan to end homelessness.
This new portion does not address ending homelessness; it seems to be
about shifting the homeless from one place to another, to disguise St
Petersburg’s failure to solve its homeless issues. This plan does not
address the fastest growing segments of the homeless population, such
as families victimized by foreclosure and returning veterans. Even if
we do have some semblance of a plan for fast growing segments (I have
not seen it) it also does not answer The Chronic’s dilemma, where to
find housing after leaving the annex
3)We Should Not Endorse Plans Contrary To Our Stated Philosophy: We
know that St Petersburg has demolished large swaths of affordable
housing. We know as well that St Petersburg has sold much of its
public housing to private developers. The City refuses to see the
connection between the loss of affordable housing and the rise in
street homeless numbers. Their reaction to the rising number of
homeless destitute people is to intact laws that criminalize people by
their very definition and to force them along a trail of tears to a
place that even the mayor describes as not a place of comfort. Not
because they have done anything, but because they are poor and
homeless. In our ten year plan we are on record as opposing these
activities. So we the Homeless Leadership Network, when we endorse
such plans embrace the very thing we claim to be fighting against.
4) This Plan will be a Funding Redundancy Which will be Ineffective:
Almost four years ago we were given a plan which became Pinellas Hope.
I say given, but everyone knows that it was shoved down our throats by
the city of St Petersburg. Even now, the St Petersburg Housing
Authority is listed as a major partner of Pinellas Hope (Wait! Are
tents now deemed as suitable housing?) Four years and millions of
dollars later, Pinellas Hope claims a 50% success rate. Of course a
50% failure rate sounds dismal. One incentive offered by The Expert is
that homeless people “graduate” to Pinellas Hope after leaving the
annex. The problem with all that is, that most of the people on the
street have already been to Pinellas Hope, and failed to connect with
services which would provide jobs and housing. That is why they are on
the street. What will become of “the choice” on cold winter nights?
With the annex offer of mats on concrete and cold food, why would one
not want to go to jail where they would have three hot meals and a
bed? We already have Pinellas Hope. How will this run after the first
year? The Sheriff’s office has 600.000, The City has 150.000. The
light bill is 330,000 a year. What part of the Ten Year Plan does this
cover? Can any of us justify paying for this? Wouldn’t our money be
better spent directed towards The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness as
opposed to a harebrained scheme to control homelessness?
5) The Plan Will Never Stand the Federal Light of Day: When this plan
is publicized, which it will be, it will be met with many horrific
gasps. The leadership of the Homeless Leadership Network should know
this. When we go to the federal government and compare our Ten Year
Plan with other plans, we will be laughed out of the building. We will
be asked to dismantle our plan if we are to have any consideration
for federal funding. I know that I am the only one who abstained from
voting for this plan, and a “For” vote can be for many reasons. I take
no offense. But do you think we should stand this unenlightened at the
mid point in our Ten Year Plan? At a recent homeless conference at a
luxury resort in Clearwater, Florida(where the homeless are not
welcome), Barbara Poppe, the Executive Director of the United States
Interagency Council on Homelessness, gave a speech in which she said
”Housing, Housing, Housing!” She made known her preferences for
Housing First. Our Texas Expert said that Housing First was one of the
craziest things he had every heard. At a subsequent meeting the plan
was partially laid out. An end to chronic homelessness in five years,
an end to veteran homelessness in five years, and an end to homeless
Families in ten years. How are we going to fit in? How are we going to
keep a competitive edge in regards to funding if we keep going
backwards? I aint with it.
On Friday November 5thin St Petersburg Fl, a room full of homeless
experts listened with rapt attention to a panel of three who sold them
a bill of goods about homelessness. I don’t know when Dr Marbut became
a homeless expert. I believe he is a psychologist, which may explain
his fascination with stimuli response techniques. and his willingness
to manipulate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. The Under Sheriff
is an expert in the field of security and criminal justice. That’s why
we have the freshly released ex convict component mixed in our
homeless shelter. In all of this, I place no blame on the sheriffs
department. The mayor is a politician. He wears many faces. He will
always assure you that his plan is the best plan. When it doesn’t
work, he’ll shift the blame to the homeless like he has been doing
since he’s been since he has been in office. Of course he is an
expert. They were three experts, but none an expert in the field of
On the other hand, I am an expert too. I’m an expert on
homelessness and the causes and effects of criminalization. A few
weeks back I was honored to be a guest at a Nation Law Center on
Homelessness and Poverty’s McKinney Vento Awards ceremony in
Washington. Barbara Poppe attended, and I gave a speech with the HUD
secretary Shaun Donovan speaking before me. After the program I
suggested to the secretary that there should be guidelines on
communities that receive HUD money and at the same time criminalize
the homeless. He said we had to be careful not to hurt the people we
were trying to help. I gave him an example of states getting money for
ensuring the voting rights of citizens, and then turning around and
enacting Jim Crow laws.
Speaking of discrimination I have a final question. When the ex
convicts come with a 100 dollars and a ticket to the city they came
from, will they be fed cold food? Will they be made to sleep mats on
the floor? Will they be included in the stimuli response experiment?
Because if they are not, I would say that you have a problem which
will be difficult to overcome. If they are, the Sheriff’s Department
might find itself accused of abusing people who have already done
their time. And like I said, as the plan stands now, a emphatic no.