Council member wants city to stop placing homeless in 'nuisance' motel

Published May 9 2014
Updated May 9 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The Mosley Motel is known around town as much for its less-than-stellar reputation as for its familiar slogan, "Where class meets economy."

Over the years, various city officials have called the 34th Street business a nuisance — and taken similar views of its owner, Michael Shimshoni, who was indicted by the federal government last year for issues at one of his other properties in St. Petersburg.

Yet for the last few years, the city's has routinely placed three to four homeless families a month at the Mosley when there are no shelters available.

City Council member Amy Foster, who learned about the practice this week, wants that to stop — immediately.

"This is like dancing with the devil to me," she said Thursday, soon after placing the issue on next week's council agenda. "I just don't understand how we made the selection to put people there. … He's considered our most problem landlord."

Foster, whose district includes the motel, also has concerns about safety.

According to a state website, eight sex offenders currently list the motel, 401 34th St. N, as their temporary or permanent address.

Plenty of people have known this was going on.

Cliff Smith, the city's manager of veterans, social and homeless services, said he learned the city was using the Mosley — and a handful of other 34th Street motels — when he came to the city last summer.

Shortly after that, he said, he began trying to change it.

"I'm totally in agreement with (Foster) on it," Smith said Thursday. "We're very concerned about it. We know its not appropriate for families to be there. That said, it's better than sleeping outside."

Smith and others who deal directly with the homeless say there are few alternatives at this point. The real issue, they said, is the fact that while the recession created more homeless and working poor families, adequate solutions haven't been found.

"A lot of these folks they are working, but just barely squeaking by," said Officer Rich Linkiewicz, who is one half of the city's street outreach team. "They are on the edge."

Every month, the city puts $3,000 into a fund for the outreach team to use. The county adds another $1,000 to that.

The money goes quickly.

This month's installment came on Monday. By Wednesday, Smith said, it had been used up.

Most of it went to putting families at the motels. About $1,200 went to bus tickets for homeless people who wanted to leave the area.

"I don't have any other options," Linkiewicz said, who added that about 25 percent of the 40 to 50 calls he gets a day are from homeless families needing shelter. "Would I rather have a 5-year-old at the Mosley Motel or would I rather have them sleeping in a car while mom's at work?"

Linkiewicz was surprised on Thursday to learn of the eight sex offenders. He said he knew of only one, a man who has restricted access to certain areas at the motel.

Foster said she wants the city to have the same standards as the county Juvenile Welfare Board, which has strict procedures about when and where it places homeless families in emergency situations. She said she was told the JWB has contracts with four places that it regularly inspects. The Mosley is not one of them.

Smith said he has been meeting with JWB officials to see if St. Petersburg also could be included it its program, or at least do something similar, since homeless families get other services from the agency.

Last year, city officials told the Tampa Bay Times that Shimshoni's nuisance abatement fines have exceeded $40,000, or one-fifth of all such fines paid since 1997.

On Thursday, city officials said the Mosley has no current nuisance abatement board action against it right now. But they stopped short of saying the motel was in "good standing."

Linkiewicz said a few years ago, when the Mosley was warned by the nuisance abatement board it could be closed because of issues there, officials told him not to use it for the homeless families.

"Once the nuisance was lifted I was given the green light to go back," he said.

Smith said about 15 new families a month are getting the temporary motel shelter option.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8643 or on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.