Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Arresting the homeless isn't the answer

In recent years Clearwater has slashed its spending on social services for the poor and homeless, and it has rejected proposals for new shelters. Now that it has a serious homeless population on its streets, the only idea city leaders have is to get tough. But demanding that the criminal justice system solve a social welfare problem isn't going to work. There aren't enough shelter beds in the county to offer as an alternative to jail, and without that, arresting people for being homeless is likely unconstitutional. The city should rethink its shortsighted plan.

Clearwater is rushing through a series of proposed ordinances to clear its streets of homeless people in advance of the Republican National Convention. The new measures are expected to come up Thursday for a final vote. Yet even now the city's police department is training officers for their enforcement.

The new ordinances are among the most extreme that cities around the country have passed. They would ban sitting or lying down on public sidewalks and rights of way on Clearwater Beach, downtown and in the East Gateway neighborhood, the area known to have the most city social services. They would bar panhandling, bathing in public fountains and sleeping outdoors. People would be either taken to a shelter or to jail for violations and their possessions would be stored or, if deemed unclean or "of no apparent utility," destroyed. Already the city has welded shut public restrooms and cut off city water in parks frequented by homeless people.

Even as Clearwater looks to make life on the streets difficult, it has made help to end homelessness harder to find. Partly due to the lack of city funding, the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project closed last year. Then the city rejected a proposal by one social service organization to provide shelter for homeless families in the empty CHIP building.

The problem for Clearwater's leaders is that arresting someone for sleeping in public if they have nowhere to go opens the city to a constitutional challenge if there are no shelter beds available. There already isn't enough space at Safe Harbor, the homeless shelter next to the Pinellas County jail, and other area shelters. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says Safe Harbor is near or at capacity almost every night.

Clearwater's move to make it a crime to be homeless is by far the most expensive and least effective way to handle this social problem. It costs $106 per night for a Pinellas County jail cell and only $13 per night for a bed at Safe Harbor, where services help the homeless stabilize their lives. More places like Safe Harbor are needed and cities like Clearwater need to invest in them, but the city seems intent on going the punitive route and buying itself a lawsuit in the process.

Comments

Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17