Friday, November 17, 2017
Opinion

Homeless, living in tents, but life goes on

RECOMMENDED READING


Most mornings, if she feels like going, Jasmine leaves her tent in the woods to catch a bus for school. She leaves her mom and several other homeless people and walks past a store on U.S. 19 that sells sex toys and adult movies.

Jasmine is 17 and has long blond hair streaked with pink and orange. She says she wants to be a cosmetologist. A barber shop next to the sex shop has been giving her some opportunities to learn. It's better than school, she says, where her behavior often gets her kicked out. She has been through Fivay, Hudson, Weeki Wachee and St. Pete high schools, she says, finally landing at the last-chance voluntary alternative school in New Port Richey.

The other day, Jasmine says, a homeless man named "Scrappy'' set her tent on fire because she wouldn't have sex with him. That wasn't part of the early official report of the fire that burned a few acres. But "Mafioso John,'' also known as "Pops,'' says it's common knowledge among the 25 or so homeless people who live in tents in this territory.

"We're watching,'' he says while sipping a beer near the charred camp, just north of State Road 52. "Justice out here is swift. I'm not saying I know anything, but something could happen to the guy who burned down that tent.''

Pops, 57, has lived in these woods about four years. It's hard, he says, especially if he runs out of medication he gets from the Harbor mental health center. He worries that so many new people keep showing up. Hundreds live in the woods, he says, in pockets all along the coast. He seems to be a leader and is trim and clean-cut, partly because he has a son nearby who lets him stay there sometimes. "Not all homeless people look like homeless people,'' Pops says. "You walk 5 miles a day and you'll be in good shape, too.''

The day after the fire, he went before a judge who fined him $400 for trespassing at Walmart after he had been warned to stay away. This marked his second conviction for the same offense. "I didn't pay the first fine and won't be paying this one,'' he says. "I don't have $400.''

Others from this camp have been in the same situation. "They took me to jail in Land O'Lakes and then released me,'' says a man named Keith. "It took me eight hours to walk back.''

"Tennessee Jim'' is familiar with that 15-mile hike. Last month he got popped for violating the new county law that prohibits begging at intersections. He says he was just holding up a sign that said, "Homeless. God Bless.'' But this earned him a third trip to the jail — and a long walk home.

"They let you go at 3 in the morning,'' he says, "but at least they let you go.''

These "campers'' could not have been more friendly and polite as we talked for a few hours, although they clearly held back personal history and other information — like last names. They agreed alcohol and mental illness are real culprits in swelling their ranks, but not drugs. "We don't tolerate them,'' Pops says. "They lead to thievery, and we don't tolerate that either.''

They don't go to shelters, even when it gets cold. Too many rules. They worry about three of their mates with ill health. "They're dying,'' Pops says.

A slight, shy 47-year-old man named James says he lived in a trailer in Hudson until he refused to pay rent because it was full of mold. He got evicted in October and had nowhere to go.

"I was afraid to come here,'' he says. "But these people took me in. I don't plan to stay here forever, but they have been very good to me.''

They gravitate to the nearby ACTS (Abundant Communities to Share) building. A sign on the front says, "Enlist in the Army of the Lord.'' Another tells campers when they have mail, usually $200 in food stamps that come every month. After the fire destroyed all of Jasmine's clothes, ACTS replaced them for free.

Some find day jobs. Jasmine's mother works construction, "and she's really good,'' Pops says.

Jasmine says they expect soon to be able to move.

Meanwhile, things were pretty much back to normal by the end of the week. Jasmine worried about the guy who torched her tent, but also saved some mock vitriol for the firefighters who dug the trenches to control the flames.

Says Jasmine: "They bulldozed my toilet.''

Comments

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17