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Homeless shelter plan worries Largo's mayor

LARGO — After Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats pushes ahead to open a shelter for homeless people prone to being in the jail system with or without County Commission approval, the impending influx of indigents near city limits is giving Largo's mayor food for thought.

On the one hand, Mayor Patricia Gerard is sympathetic to the plight of the area's homeless. Gerard is the chief operating officer of Family Resources, a nonprofit that works to help teens and families in crises.

And she's a member of the county's Homeless Leadership Network, which aims to end homelessness and whose board voted unanimously to move the project forward.

But the rushed nature of the program; the funding she expects the county to request from Largo; and the impact on residents, Largo police and businesses in the area, she says, are causes at least for discussion.

Which is why Gerard made the shelter, funded by the county and the city of St. Petersburg, a topic of conversation for Tuesday night's Largo City Commission meeting.

"I wanted to put it on the agenda so people would know what's happening and what it is all about," Gerard said. "The Police Department has some concerns because it is right on our border.

"There are businesses right around there that do have some concerns. We'll be responsible for trying to police that."

As cities confront homeless people, police often issue trespass or other citations that land them in an already crowded jail at a cost of $126 a day, each.

The new shelter will save money, the sheriff said, by accepting homeless people accused of misdemeanor and ordinance violations, such as public intoxication.

Other objectives include housing recently released inmates from both the county jail and state prisons.

The facility aims to provide social services, none mandatory, and residents would be free to leave at will — which also concerns Gerard.

The building is near the County Jail on 49th Street N in Largo.

"They have around five security guards," she said. "But 250 people is a lot. It's not like they are going to stop them from coming and going."

She also said some residents have voiced their concern.

Another issue is funding.

Without any long-term way to adequately pay for the center laid out, additional cities are expected to chip in as the project opens — as early as next month.

Gerard said that as Largo looks to trim its own budget, funding for a program that offers no clear benefit to Largo residents and doesn't officer services to families in need of shelter might be a tough sell for the City Commission.

"All the budgets are kind of stretched tight right now," Gerard said. "I'm not sure what we can do this year. Or next year."

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

Homeless shelter plan worries Largo's mayor 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 5:07pm]
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