TAMPA — Although the population of the camp protesters called Romneyville dwindled after the Republican National Convention, those left behind are dealing with brewing tensions over a broken verbal agreement and the looming question: Where will they go?
The residents are free to occupy the chain-link lot behind the Army-Navy Surplus Market from May 17 to Sept. 17, according to a contract between the residents and the business owner. But some of the organizers had promised Nick Potamitis, who owns the business and leases the property, they would move out right after the RNC.
"We said we would be out of here. We didn't guarantee it," organizer John Alexander said, adding that by Sept. 17, the remaining residents will depart.
But Gregory Lockett, a former encampment organizer, disagreed.
"We should follow through the agreement," Lockett said. "When we do need help somewhere else, who is going to help us if we don't keep our word? … We had an assignment. That assignment is over with. Now we need to move on."
About a dozen people remain at the camp. At its peak during the RNC, it was home to more than 100 people. On Friday, most of them boarded buses and headed to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.
Each resident signed a contract that outlined a set of rules: no drugs, no alcohol and no discrimination.
"This here is a group of people who are making a choice to try to live together on much less," Alexander said.
Organizers agreed to pay Potamitis $1,500 to use the space. Lockett said Romneyville, launched by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, still owes Potamitis about $200.
When asked about the verbal agreement, Potamitis declined to comment, only saying that "everything is fine." The market's manager did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Alexander said the remaining residents will wait until Sept. 17 to pack their tents and belongings to buy time to "find a safe place for these guys to go."
On Wednesday, the camp was quiet. Blue and hot pink tents dotted the lot.
Some residents sat down under a tarp away from the sizzling afternoon sun with a handful of workers from Mental Health Care Inc., which offers a program called the Shop that provides homeless people with services, including a laundry facility, showers and Internet access.
Jenine LaCoe, director of out-patient services at MHC, said several of the Romneyville residents have used the services.
An outreach specialist who has visited the camp since before the RNC told her the residents said "they really did want to stay together as a community," LaCoe said. "They felt safe together, but there's no place they could go, no piece of land."
Joshua Bey, who has been living at the camp since before the convention, said he has no place to go.
"This is a homeless camp. This isn't an RNC camp," he said. "It's all up in the air."
Staff writer Marissa Lang contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727)893-8713, or [email protected]