The St. Petersburg City Council did the right thing by approving the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's bid to resurrect the old Florida Hospital as a homeless shelter and food center. The move should benefit the city, the neighborhood and the homeless.
With more people discovering the growing charms of the downtown area, they are also coming face to face with the city's homeless problem. The city carefully zoned new homeless service facilities into single-use commercial or industrial districts to avoid a culture clash. But in doing so, the council also pushed solutions and services farther from the sites of the problem. Approving the new shelter location, along with a grant the city issued in December, goes a long way toward countering the city's history of occasional acts of callousness toward poor people downtown.
Business people and neighborhood residents recognize that the hospital site has become an unsightly waste of space in their community. Between now and Sept. 30, St. Vincent de Paul will invest at least $1-million in renovating that facility, making it the culmination of a decadelong quest to expand the Society's services for homeless people. To answer the concerns of some neighbors, St. Vincent de Paul has agreed to create buffers around the property with a fence, change its main entrance from Fourth Avenue to Fifth Avenue and sell the community space for a playground.
The council has done an admirable job of balancing the needs of all the key constituencies with a stake in the project: downtown business owners, neighborhood residents and the people trying to get back on their feet. That is the kind of leadership that encourages improvement and caring. It's a quality the city can't have enough of.