Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg police tell homeless people they can no longer sleep on streets

ST. PETERSBURG — Police officers swatted at bugs and checked their cell phones. Mayor Bill Foster shook hands with passers-by. A squad car sat idle — there was no need for it Wednesday night.

The plan had been to spend the evening outside City Hall, telling homeless people that police now can enforce a 2007 ordinance that prohibits sleeping in public rights of way. The only catch? There was no one to talk to.

Police and officials were hard pressed to find homeless people downtown on Wednesday, this in a town where just a few months ago nearly 200 people regularly slept in parks and on sidewalks, especially around City Hall.

"For the first time, we didn't have to clean up the street. There was nobody here last night," said Robert Marbut, a consultant hired by the city in October to help deal with homeless issues. "Everything's coming together."

Police haven't been able to enforce the city's public sleeping ban before because of a lack of available beds in area shelters.

Now that Pinellas Safe Harbor, the county's homeless shelter, is operating with excess capacity, police have started giving homeless people options: go to the shelter, find somewhere else to sleep or be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.

"Those who really want to exercise the right to sleep on a sidewalk need to do in another county," Foster said Wednesday.

Police approached about 29 people Tuesday night, the first night that the ordinance could be enforced. About 23 went to Safe Harbor; others went to hotels or other shelters.

On Wednesday night, officers waited outside City Hall to offer assistance again, but few people walked by. Williams Park and Mirror Lake, traditional stomping grounds for the city's homeless, were nearly empty.

One woman, wiping tears from her eyes, approached Officer Rich Linkiewicz outside City Hall and asked for help. Marbut helped her into a police van.

"Hop on in, dear. You're fine. Hang in there," he said before Linkiewicz drove her to Turning Point, a local detox facility.

Foster, who followed officers on patrol Tuesday night, said he was surprised by how well the ordinance has been received.

"I truly expected some resistance, but people are very grateful," he said. "(Tuesday) night was amazing. We had 100 percent compliance."

Still, some are skeptical.

Pat Alston, 52, who's been off the streets for eight months, said it's hard for the homeless to transition once they move to a shelter, and many return to the streets or continue using drugs and alcohol.

"I've been talking to a lot of people about (the ordinance)," she said, sitting in Williams Park at dusk Wednesday night. "People will come out (of the shelter), drink, get high and then go straight back. It's very easy to get stuck."

Police say they're not looking to arrest the homeless — just get them off the streets. However, officers will arrest repeat offenders or people who refuse to leave the right-of-way, police spokesman Mike Puetz said.

Marbut usually circles downtown until midnight or 2 a.m., taking stock of the city's homeless. When he arrived last year, it wasn't unusual to find 180 people in Williams Park alone. On Tuesday night, he found just two in all of downtown.

"I wanted to wake people up and tell them what I saw," he said, laughing.

St. Petersburg police tell homeless people they can no longer sleep on streets 07/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:07am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Forecast: Hot, humid and mostly dry conditions prevail for St. Pete Pride weekend


    The threat of any lingering effects from Tropical Storm Cindy have passed, leaving behind a relatively dry — but hot and humid — St. Pete Pride weekend.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast [WTSP]
  2. Florida Insiders: The state parties are dying; 'I heard someone long for the leadership of Jim Greer'


    For all the attention on Florida Democratic Chairman Stephen Bittel's bone headed gaffe this week, the diminished state of the once mighty Florida GOP today compared to even a few years ago is arguably more striking than the condition of the long-suffering Florida Democratic Party. A decade ago, no one would have …

    Florida Insider Poll
  3. Florida Democrats surging with grassroots enthusiasm, but 2018 reality is grim

    State Roundup

    After Donald Trump's election, so many people started showing up at monthly Pinellas County Democratic Party meetings, the group had to start forking out more money for a bigger room.

    Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses Florida Democrats at the Leadership Blue Gala on June 17 in Hollywood, Fla. (Photo by Carol Porter)
  4. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  5. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy


    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]