Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

St. Petersburg food pantries wary of influx of protesters for RNC party

ST. PETERSBURG — With the Republican National Convention nearing, Michael Raposa has just a few words to describe the potential effect of protesters on the local St. Vincent de Paul.

"We are petrified," he said.

While most activists are converging on Tampa, some are expected in St. Petersburg around the RNC party Sunday at Tropicana Field.

Raposa, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, said local authorities have told him that protesters have listed the soup kitchen and shelter as one of the places to eat and sleep for free in St. Petersburg. "We have always had open doors, but we are just not equipped to feed another 500 mouths," he said.

Maj. Tim Gilliam, area commander for the Salvation Army in St. Petersburg, which also provides food and shelter to the poor and homeless, said his agency has been alerted by law enforcement about the possibility of unrest.

"We are going to operate our shelter as normal and keep our eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary," he said.

"We provide three meals a day, seven days a week. We don't normally ask questions regarding those meals. Provided people adhere to the rules and policies, they are pretty much able to get a meal with us."

Stricter rules apply to those who seek shelter, Gilliam said.

St. Vincent de Paul, which sleeps 70 people a night, will have no extra room, Raposa said, noting that in July, it turned away 116 people.

Word of the protesters and their possible impact has been circulating through the grapevine, said Rhonda Abbott, St. Petersburg's manager of veteran, social and homeless services.

"There's been no formal announcement,'' she said. "It certainly has been spoken of in the homeless arena that this is the usual means that people who come to these types of events find shelter and food, but we are capped off. The inn is full."

The Salvation Army, which can house up to 112 people a night, averages 200 meals a day. St. Vincent de Paul, feeds 600 to 900 people a day, Raposa said.

The Rev. Bruce Wright of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, which is encouraging protesters to stay at its Romneyville camp in Tampa, said he had not heard of any plan for protesters to use St. Petersburg shelters and soup kitchens.

"My first response is that's unfair to the homeless and poor in our community. And if they need lodging, what they should do is join our encampment or other encampments that might be developing or contact churches about floor space," he said.

Wright added that his group will be in St. Petersburg on Sunday and hopes to serve a meal to the homeless to encourage their participation in the vigil scheduled that afternoon.

At St. Vincent de Paul, meanwhile, Raposa is considering asking those who come for a meal to show a special social service ID.

"We want to make sure that our clients are taken care of like on any other day," he said. "Our facility is already overstretched. You can't shut down completely and you can't stop providing services."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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