I live in a lovely neighborhood on St. Petersburg's south side. Homeless people from the Salvation Army facility on Fourth Street S have disrupted life for my neighbors and me.
And we are angry.
Most days, a few of the homeless men who own vehicles park in front of our homes for many hours. Some stay all day, except when they are running errands to buy booze and cigarettes. Some play loud music and shout at the top of their lungs. I often see a few men urinating in the bushes. Two weeks ago, a couple had sex in their van in clear view of anyone who passed.
One man regularly stares down my neighbors when they drive past. One neighbor said she feels as if the man is challenging her to say something to him. The same man also stares me down when I drive by. On two occasions, he raised his middle finger, which really angered me. I was tempted to confront him, but I thought better of it after I imagined myself sitting in a jail cell or lying in a hospital bed for fighting with a homeless person.
A neighbor walked across the street one day and asked a man to turn down his music. She was met with a stream of profanities. I've seen the man many times, and I, too, have been annoyed by his music. I often see his vehicle parked at the Salvation Army. My neighbor realizes she had made a mistake by confronting the man because he now knows who she is and where she lives.
A handful of homeless men prowl our alleys and rummage through our garbage containers. Sure, people have a right to walk in alleys. But it is unsettling to come out of your house to see a stranger picking through your garbage.
I've only called the police once about the problems, but some of my neighbors call all the time. Others have written letters to the Salvation Army, to the mayor, to the police chief and to our City Council member. Nothing changes.
I've always been accepting of the homeless. I've donated money, clothes, food and books to them. As a child, I was homeless for a time. I've written columns defending their rights. But I'm sick and tired of those who disrespect my right to live in peace on my own property. I don't want a homeless guy giving me the finger in front of my house as I drive to work.
Like my neighbors, I want the Salvation Army to live up to its end of the bargain when residents accepted construction of the facility in the community. We were promised that we wouldn't have any trouble, that the agency would be a good neighbor.
Well, we're having trouble. And we want it stopped.
I have yet to see anyone from the Salvation Army on my street. My neighbors and I believe the agency has a moral responsibility to visit us and hear our concerns. We pay big bucks to live here. The agency's administrators would be surprised that many of us want to help them solve the problems.
We don't want a fight. We want relief.
The police also have let us down. They should patrol our street more often. I stand on my porch and watch people illegally drinking and throwing trash everywhere, which I pick up. I appreciate the police department's concern about not harassing the homeless. But what about those of us who must endure the presence of illegal and unsavory behavior? We have a noise ordinance that should be enforced. Residents should not have to take matters into their hands.
Clearly, the city and the county and not-for-profit groups are trying to assist our homeless population, and my neighbors and I applaud everyone's efforts. But we want these same groups and individuals to listen to our pleas. After all, we're law-abiding taxpayers who worry about our quality of life and the encroachments of the homeless.
I don't have any definite answers to the homeless problem. But I sure would like to have people in authority sit down with my neighbors and me and hear what we have to say.