Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg: Are homeless people again flocking to downtown?

From left, Morgan Hill, 45, Errin Shelton, 37, Troy “Happy” Gilmore, 35, and Timothy Barker, 45, talk with reporters in Williams Park last week in downtown St. Petersburg.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

From left, Morgan Hill, 45, Errin Shelton, 37, Troy “Happy” Gilmore, 35, and Timothy Barker, 45, talk with reporters in Williams Park last week in downtown St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — It has been 18 months since the city ousted the hundreds of homeless people that slept around City Hall and elsewhere downtown.

But a recent uptick in homeless people — from the Grand Central district to the downtown waterfront — has raised concerns that the problem may be returning.

Even the lauded consultant, who helped devise the city's homeless strategy, said he believes the city needs to do more outreach work on the streets.

"You have to keep up with the maintenance," said Robert Marbut, hired by the city to help with homeless issues from October 2010 through November 2011. "That worries me."

Anecdotal reports of more homeless people downtown conflict with a recent homeless count by the city that showed as few as 27 people downtown at night and 179 during the day.

"I don't think they're accurate," council member Jeff Danner said of the counts. "I see more people than that. I'm getting a lot of complaints."

Danner and council member Leslie Curran said the city's efforts have slipped since Marbut's contract expired and Rhonda Abbott, a city manager who battled homeless and veteran issues for six years, left in November.

"They both went above and beyond their jobs to talk to people," Danner said.

Curran agreed, saying: "We've taken a step back. We need someone on the streets."

Not so fast, said Mayor Bill Foster.

He attributes the uptick to a seasonal migration and a harsh winter in northeastern states. He also believes others flooded the Sunshine City after Hurricane Sandy in October.

"It's the palm tree effect," he said.

The biggest issue, he said, is the chronic homeless who don't want to be helped.

The city has hired someone to replace Abbott, he said.

Cliff Smith, Pinellas County's assistant director of health and human services, will start June 1 after he has exhausted his remaining vacation time at the county, Foster said.

Smith will be paid $68,500 per year, the same salary Abbott received.

Foster said he believes the city's homeless counts were accurate.

The homeless population had shrunk since the city tightened its rules on panhandling and instituted a general ban on street solicitation in 2010.

In July 2011, St. Petersburg started enforcing an ordinance that bans sleeping or reclining on public sidewalks. Police take violators to jail or to Pinellas Safe Harbor, the county's shelter off 49th Street in mid-Pinellas.

Still, the many homeless people last weekend in Williams and Unity parks surprised Marbut, who still consults with the city of Clearwater and took a drive through St. Petersburg.

As for the overall effort, Marbut gave the city high marks on everything expect outreach, which he describes as 10 percent of the total work.

He and Abbott canvassed streets for six hours on most days to talk with people, Marbut said. With the gains in place, the effort shouldn't take more than a few hours a day now, he added.

The biggest trigger, he said, is when 10 or more people hang out in one place.

With Smith not starting until June, the problem will only grow, he said.

"You want to get after it now," Marbut said. "If you let it fester, you're going to have big problems."

A man who spent many years living on the streets said the city needs more social workers in the parks, not police officers shooing people away.

"The city doesn't have a good strategy," said Gregory Rolle, a St. Petersburg resident and member of the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board. "There aren't many solutions being offered."

Curran, who owns a art gallery on Central Avenue, said more homeless people are loitering in alleys and panhandling in the district. She believes outreach workers should ask business owners about emerging hot spots.

Curran and Danner worked to bring Marbut here from Texas. She doesn't believe the city needs to hire him permanently, but her biggest concern is that the city will have to start over if the issue grows.

Council member Charlie Gerdes said he has heard about homeless hanging near businesses by Tyrone Square Mall.

"Losing Rhonda (Abbott) was not good for the city," he said. "She did a great job."

Foster cautioned that the city has the problem under control.

"It's significantly better than it was three years ago," he said. "It's a work in progress."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459.

St. Petersburg: Are homeless people again flocking to downtown? 02/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 10:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. White House signals acceptance of Russia sanctions bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The White House indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump would accept new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and curtailing his authority to lift them on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt in Congress by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to …

    President Donald Trump’s ability to lift sanctions against Russia would be blocked.
  2. Senator: American student arrested in China has been freed

    World

    BILLINGS, Mont. — Chinese authorities have dropped charges against an American college student who was arrested and detained in the a week ago after reportedly injuring a taxi driver who was roughing up his mother in a fare dispute, a U.S. lawmaker said Sunday.

    Guthrie McLean was detained for reportedly injuring a taxi driver after the driver physically attacked McLean’s mother.
  3. Tampa-based makeup artist disqualified from contest over pro-Trump post

    News

    WICHITA, Kan. — A makeup artist who splits her time between Tampa and Kansas says she won a national contest sponsored by Kat Von D Beauty but was later disqualified because of an Instagram post supporting Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.

    Gypsy Freeman won the contest with this image posted to Instagram. [@facesofgypsy on Instagram]
  4. Flesh-eating bacteria nearly kills Florida man who thought he just had blisters from a hike

    Health

    Wayne Atkins thought little of the blisters he had gotten while hiking. He was trekking up and down the 4,500-foot-high Mount Garfield in New Hampshire - a 10-mile round trip - and blisters were no surprise.

    Wayne Atkins thought his blisters were from hiking, but the flesh eating bacteria nearly killed him. [YouTube]
  5. Yes, again: Rays blow late two-run lead, get swept by Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As weekends go, this was a bad one for the Rays. In a word: brutal.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger, foreground, reacts after giving up a home run to Texas Rangers' Carlos Gomez during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 23, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) FLMC116