TAMPA — Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said Monday that police have not been told to arrest homeless people and keep them in jail during Super Bowl week, contrary to a belief held by advocates for the homeless.
"I've talked to the chief about it, and he assured me there is absolutely no targeting of the homeless. And, of course, it would be absolutely unacceptable," Iorio said. "We are not doing that."
Yet that's why the advocates said they are not conducting a homeless census that began this week in counties across the nation, including Pinellas.
Last week, three prominent advocates from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties said police were charging homeless people with petty crimes and jailing them to keep Tampa from looking bad to out-of-town guests.
Tampa Crossroads director Sara Romeo, a former state representative, said Monday night that she heard a local law enforcement officer speak of such plans at a meeting of social service providers before the holidays.
She isn't sure which agency he represented, Romeo said. He wasn't in uniform. She didn't remember much else about the meeting, except that dozens of people were there and there was talk of planning for Super Bowl XLIII.
"This is not a new concept, not a new theory," she said. "I think it's something that happens in every major city across the United States, and I think it's a way to put something that we're not proud of out of the way for a few days."
Iorio said she would never condone rounding up homeless people to make the city look better to Super Bowl visitors.
"The city is what it is," she said, noting that Tampa, like many other big cities, has homeless people.
"Sadly it represents a failing of our society as a whole," she said.
When told of Iorio's comments, Romeo responded, "I'm glad she said that. I'm glad she feels that way. I think many of us who work in social services feel like we're constantly swimming upstream to provide services."
Romeo said Tampa would be better off discussing homeless people honestly and openly, while working toward solutions.
"For it to get better, this community is going to have to come together and admit there's a problem," Romeo said.
"Obviously, there's a dispute on whether they are rounding up homeless or not."
Iorio said she spoke to Tampa police Chief Steve Hogue about the advocates' concerns.
Hogue's agency was trying to learn Monday whether a city officer had made the comment that Romeo reported hearing.
"We're contacting homeless advocates to find out what was said and make sure they know that never was our policy," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
Times staff writer Patty Ryan contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.