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Shelter takes warm heart, firm hand

It is 9 a.m. at the ASAP Drop-In Shelter. Fifteen men and three or four women are in the courtyard behind the clean, bare house at 423 11th Ave. S, drinking coffee and eating pastries. People and pastries have seen better days.

Jerry Styles looms over the place. He is big and benign, with a faint aura of menace _ attributes that help in dealing with the hundred or so homeless men who come in every day.

Styles, 58, can be patient and kind _ in persuading a muscular little man with a bruised face and a limp to go to a hospital.

"Nurses'll keep me sitting there all morning, and then they'll hassle me," he says.

"That knee is infected," Styles says. "You gonna lose that leg if you don't get it treated. Then I won't have you to come in here every morning and give me a hard time."

Inside the shelter, half a dozen men are pawing through the racks of secondhand, giveaway clothing. The men are dirty, ragged, a little raucous.

Styles strides brusquely among them. "Out of here!" he says. "You know the rules, no more than three at a time in the clothing room, and no more than 15 minutes. And you have to shower and shave before you get new clothes."

There is not a murmur of rebellion. They move off quickly, but not before he singles out three and sends them to the showers.

Back in the courtyard, the drop-ins sit moodily. Two of them are side by side on a picnic table, not talking to one another.

A thin, young woman in shorts, her skin pale and unhealthy-looking, asks Styles if she can take home some loaves of bread. "Yes, ma'am," he says. "And some of those cans, too, if you can use them."

There are many single mothers in the neighborhood. They are allowed to come for food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As director of the shelter, Styles is on good terms with the neighborhood. His clients never loiter in the area. He is president of the local block association.

"We don't allow any cursing either _ and no being drunk or high on drugs." He relents a little. "But we do let them come here a little hung over.

"And we don't allow any racism here. White and black get along or they get out."

Then he looks sadly at a tall, wraithlike young man. "They've got a hard life. It's not easy to be homeless and sleep out at night.

"They get beat up a lot. Even their friends will beat them up over money, or some other dumb reason.

"There's a lot of violence in this town you don't hear about. Teenagers go by a drunk lying in the park, and beat him up, hit him with bike chains. No racism in that either. Black or white, they beat and get beaten."

Styles grew up in St. Petersburg, went to Florida A & M, was a cop for a few years. "I was one of the pioneers in suing over discrimination," he says. Later he was a buyer for Belk-Lindsey, helped start Plowboy, a short-lived fast food drive-in, and ran Bay Chronicle, a weekly newspaper.

He got into the shelter, when he signed on "to protect" his wife, Camille Moran, director of the woman's shelter next door _ and then got interested in the work.

The shelter is in desperate financial trouble now. The donations it lives by are down, and it may not be able to last until January when it hopes to receive the yearly FEMA grant that only partly supports it. Contributions can be sent to ASAP, P.O. Box 3910, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

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