Leave it to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to pick a fight over a nonissue by hinting that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn might be scheming to ship his city's homeless population across Tampa Bay during next year's Republican National Convention. The prospect of a secret plan to foist Tampa's homeless on St. Petersburg is news to Buckhorn. But since Foster has his top secret plan to save the Tampa Bay Rays, it's little wonder he suspects other mayors have clandestine plots to deal with their own big issues.
Foster hatched his crazy conspiracy theory in the wake of police reports noting a slight increase of homeless people emigrating from Tampa to take advantage of Pinellas social services and shelter facilities such as Pinellas Safe Harbor. But a statistical uptick does not a groundswell make. And to the St. Petersburg mayor's surprise, the bay bridges run in both directions. One of the reasons Tampa has seen its homeless ranks grow is the narrow-minded St. Petersburg ordinance that banned panhandling — and newspaper hawkers — and sent some of those people across the bay. If anyone engaged in the export of homeless people, it was Foster and the St. Petersburg City Council.
Perhaps the next secret plan from St. Petersburg City Hall will be to install gates at the Tampa Bay bridges — let baseball fans and museum visitors in, keep the homeless out, and prevent St. Petersburg shoppers from heading to Tampa. The crisis of homelessness is not a St. Petersburg problem or a Tampa problem. It is a regional problem. And it is no surprise that the homeless, like baseball fans and shoppers and most other folks around Tampa Bay, have a more regional view than the St. Petersburg mayor.