SAFETY HARBOR — As part of an effort to shore up countywide support for the recently opened Pinellas Safe Harbor homeless shelter, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster visited the city of Safety Harbor on Monday night to ask for a contribution.
Foster had previously sent the city a letter asking for a contribution of $5,000 to $10,000 for the shelter, which opened last month on 49th Street near the Pinellas County Jail. St. Petersburg is contributing $100,000, Clearwater is contributing $50,000, and other Pinellas cities are being asked to pitch in.
At Monday night's Safety Harbor City Commission meeting, Foster explained the shelter's mission — to divert those homeless who would typically find themselves in jail for minor offenses, such as trespassing. "It's chronic homeless and people we would typically arrest," he said.
He said maintaining Pinellas Safe Harbor is less costly than forcing homeless people through the criminal system.
Commissioners did not discuss the request, as they plan to address it at their next meeting March 7.
Foster also acknowledged the commission's concern with the shelter's name. Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold had previously called Foster and Public Defender Bob Dillinger, two of the shelter's backers, to voice concerns about its name. "Some people in our city did not like this usage, referring to a homeless shelter,'' Steingold said last month.
Foster said "the Harbor" has become the shelter's common name, and he thinks it might eventually become permanent. "That's certainly going to be my wish, my desire," he said.
Also Monday night, the Safety Harbor commission passed a city law that forbids panhandling during nighttime hours, near bus stops and ATMs, and on private property without the owner's permission.
Matt McLachlan, community development director, said panhandling isn't a significant issue in Safety Harbor, but the ordinance gives the city power to deal with any future problems that could arise.
"This ordinance gives the city authority to address aggressive forms of panhandling should the problem grow in scope as it has in other communities in the bay area," he said.
He noted that the law is not written to prevent charities from fundraising on city streets.