Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

Clearwater says homeless should go to shelters, but most have no space

RECOMMENDED READING


CLEARWATER

City officials, defending themselves against criticism of their crackdown on the homeless, point to out-of-town shelters as an alternative to the streets.

"We believe there is adequate space in the various facilities to offer beds," City Manager Bill Horne said, mentioning mid-county compounds Safe Harbor and Pinellas Hope. "If somebody really wants to be there, there's a space for them."

But social service leaders and homeless advocates say the truth is that shelters and programming are often so strained that many are turned away.

And Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his office's Safe Harbor, a shelter city officials have called Clearwater's "main portal for homeless men and women," is meant to reduce the number of people put in jail, not house the city's homeless.

"That's not right, and it's not what it's intended for," Gualtieri said of Clearwater's position. "We are not in the general homeless population business. That's not our role, and it's not going to be."

Clearwater's plan to reduce homelessness has been likened to squeezing a balloon. The city has welded shut park bathrooms, turned off water spigots in public spaces, discouraged food donations to a local soup kitchen and discussed stronger laws in an attempt to shift the homeless into shelters and services and out of the public eye.

Yet the city hasn't opened any new shelters. And it withdrew its financial aid to a shelter started with city support, which then closed.

Instead, Clearwater leaders seem to favor consolidating the city's homeless elsewhere. Housing the homeless, they say, is not their responsibility.

"It's not a Clearwater problem. It's a Pinellas County problem," Mayor George Cretekos said. "If Pinellas County can come up with a Safe Harbor for St. Petersburg, I would expect the county to come up with a Safe Harbor for Clearwater. Are we any different?"

Opened near Largo in late 2010, Safe Harbor, the county's largest emergency shelter, houses about 400 people daily and rarely has more than a few open beds, Gualtieri said. The city has committed to giving $50,000 to Safe Harbor this year and has considered doubling the payment.

Clearwater contributes to the swelling shelter population more than any other city. Nearly 450 people who stayed at the shelter last month said they had come from Clearwater — about as many as St. Petersburg and Largo combined.

Pinellas Hope, Catholic Charities' tent city for the homeless located not far from Safe Harbor, is also packed full.

Neither shelter accepts children, who make up about 40 percent of the county's homeless population of 6,000, yet both shelters have been designated the city's primary resources for housing the homeless by Clearwater's homelessness consultant, Robert Marbut. Families, he said, would be given access to a county hotline of "virtual case managers" who could direct them on where to stay.

Homeless advocates question whether that would be enough. Last year the Homeless Emergency Project, a longtime shelter and homeless services center in north Clearwater, was able to house only 51 of the 1,473 families who sought shelter there, HEP vice president Libby Stone said. More than 1,700 adults and 2,600 children were turned away.

RCS Grace House, Pinellas' largest emergency shelter for families, has no vacancies. Same for the 24 apartments at the Salvation Army's Transitional Living Center, where the average homeless child is 8 years old.

"There's just not enough space for everyone or enough programming to provide services for everyone. Not at all," said Lisa Matzner, the director of grants development for Religious Community Services. "There's a lot of gaps in our safety net."

Yet since the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project (CHIP) closed last year due in part to a freeze in city funding, city leaders have resisted proposals for new shelters and safe havens.

Directions for Mental Health, a Clearwater-based behavioral health and child welfare provider, proposed a shelter for homeless families in the empty CHIP building. It was swatted down because of zoning requirements and neighborhood opposition.

And a plan to house poor pregnant women in a defunct nunnery was rejected because a city board declared the building was too close to the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen three football fields away. City rules say shelters must be at least 1,500 feet apart.

Though those denials were blamed on existing city rules, officials have not hesitated to change ordinances affecting the homeless. Guided by Marbut's recommendations, officials are now crafting potential regulations on sleeping in public and sitting or lying in public right-of-ways.

The city has paid $25,000 to consultant Marbut, who says the stricter ordinances are needed to end the city's "history of enablement."

But homeless advocates say such ordinances criminalize the homeless by banning activities associated with basic survival.

"You've got to offer the alternative before you lower the boom. They haven't done that," Public Defender Bob Dillinger said. "They so want the homeless out of Clearwater, and this appears the way they're going to do it. I would much prefer to give them services."

Some city efforts have already met opposition. Neighbors of Crest Lake Park, where crews welded the bathrooms shut, said the move was too hasty and damaged the park's appeal. The city has agreed to pay $200 for portable toilets at an upcoming benefit near the park's locked bathroom stalls.

"What you're doing is simply making it harder for anyone on the street to sustain their life," said Tom Pierce, the executive director of the Florida Department of Children and Families' Office on Homelessness. "It doesn't solve the problem. It doesn't take that individual that's homeless today and get them off the street."

Sandy Newland, who said she was evicted from her Dunedin home two years ago after the day-labor firm her husband worked for went out of business, said she feared the coming ordinance changes could lead to harsher crackdowns. Living on the street, she said, is already tough enough.

"If you want to really help the homeless, find jobs for them. Give them a place to stay," Newland said. "The homeless are not just going to go away."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or [email protected] to write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

 
Comments
Trump speaks up for Moore, warns against his ‘liberal’ rival

Trump speaks up for Moore, warns against his ‘liberal’ rival

WASHINGTON — Silent for more than a week, President Donald Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, discounting the sexual assault allegations against him and insisting repeatedly that voters must not support Moor...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Fire sends smoke through roof of Brass Flamingo adult club in Port Richey

Fire sends smoke through roof of Brass Flamingo adult club in Port Richey

PORT RICHEY — Crews from Pasco County fire rescue were battling a fire Wednesday morning that sent smoke pouring through the roof at the Brass Flamingo adult club, 9034 U.S. 19.The fire forced the closing of U.S. 19 but traffic was flowing again by 6...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Charities see greater need, donations during holidays after Irma

Charities see greater need, donations during holidays after Irma

Charities that feed the poor around Tampa Bay say they’ve seen a bump in demand since Hurricane Irma that is continuing into the holidays.But they also are reporting a spike in donations they are attributing to a neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit in t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

TAMPA — Before the killings began, Bob and Vivian Fiallo envisioned having Thanksgiving at their North Carolina mountain getaway.Most years, the couple spends the holiday at their tidy, brick-faced home on North Olney Avenue, in the heart of Southeas...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: Foggy, then partly cloudy Thanksgiving Eve before holiday rain takes hold across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Foggy, then partly cloudy Thanksgiving Eve before holiday rain takes hold across Tampa Bay

A foggy, then partly cloudy day precedes what potentially could be a wet and dreary Thanksgiving across Tampa Bay.Deep moisture in the region has produced thick fog early Wednesday morning, with visibility reduced to a quarter-mile in some areas — in...
Updated: 1 hour ago
What would drive a man to shoot someone 17 times?

What would drive a man to shoot someone 17 times?

Anthony Roy and his wife retired to Clearwater to escape the violence in Washington, D.C. They moved into a house owned by his mother, and they loved it there. Then uninvited guests started loitering in their back yard and dealing drugs. They couldn&...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The Daystarter: Seminole Heights family shows strength over Thanksgiving; How ‘A Christmas Carol’ was born; Amazon’s crushing retail this holiday season; remembering David Cassidy

The Daystarter: Seminole Heights family shows strength over Thanksgiving; How ‘A Christmas Carol’ was born; Amazon’s crushing retail this holiday season; remembering David Cassidy

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.10News WTSPThe latest 7-day forecast• Increased moisture will produce thick morning fog, then give way to warm temperatures, partly cloudy skies and a small chance of rain. Com...
Updated: 2 hours ago
How ‘A Christmas Carol’ was born

How ‘A Christmas Carol’ was born

Charles Dickens’ best-known and most beloved book almost didn’t happen. In 1843, Dickens, then 31, was already dealing with the downside of international success. He had followed bestsellers like Oliver Twist with several flops and was s...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Some cities faced with all-or-nothing medical marijuana rules are playing it safe

Some cities faced with all-or-nothing medical marijuana rules are playing it safe

When it comes to weighing the options for regulating medical marijuana through the law passed this year, Dunedin city commissioners declared local governments face a "conundrum" and "a false dilemma."They said they would welcome a dispensary in the c...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Hometown Pasco for Nov. 24

Hometown Pasco for Nov. 24

We want your news! Hometown Pasco is devoted to everyday life in our county, whether it’s snapshots from your family reunion, recreational sporting event, news from your last club meeting or just a few lines thanking someone for a job well do...
Published: 11/22/17