Being old and poor - black or white _ in St. Petersburg is tough.
Being old, poor and forgotten by city officials and the police is hell.
Let me tell you, a lot of this kind of hell exists in St. Petersburg _ some of the worse occurring on the south side within walking distance of City Hall, police headquarters and other city government offices.
I cannot identify my victims by name. Nor can I identify their streets and neighborhoods. I must leave them anonymous because to identify them would expose them to harassment, bodily injury, destruction of their properties or even death.
Each day I am in town, I visit at least one of these areas. I often sit in the home of a victim.
This is what I experienced on Tuesday when I visited the home of a woman who is older than 75. I parked my car off the road so as not to attract attention. Gracious, kind and intelligent, she welcomed me into her dilapidated, wooden house. I went there for the specific purpose of observing activities across the street _ unsavory and illegal activities that make her life perpetually miserable. She rarely has a happy moment here.
Four young black males, all wearing signature drooping trousers, either paced the trash-filled yard between two houses, walked to the street or sat in spots that gave them views of vehicular and foot traffic. One exercised two pit bulls that strained against their leashes.
"Those pit bulls scare me," my host said. "Cars come and go all night long. I can't sleep a lot of time. They don't make a lot of noise or play loud music. They don't want to attract attention. They're not a big-time business, so I guess the cops let them do it."
When I left the house, I kept my windows rolled up and drove the length of the street. Drug dealers, all young black males, rule the area. Two, who had been sitting on an old brick fence _ and who looked like boys out of school for the summer _ ran toward my car.
They stopped in their tracks after apparently realizing that I did not fit the drug-buyer's profile.
The homes in the area are mostly old wooden structures that could use a lot of fresh paint. A handful of the dwellings, although simple and inexpensive, are newly built or renovated under the auspices of the city of St. Petersburg.
Which brings us back to the lady I visited.
Her house is so old and in such disrepair that she qualifies for a city program that rehabs homes and relocates owners. The city visited the woman's house more than a year ago and informed her that her place was beyond repair. For example, even though her roofed leaked torrents, the city determined that repairing it would be useless.
Instead of trying to repair the house, officials decided to relocate the woman. She initially agreed, but after the city did not act in a timely way, she decided to move into the new house the city was having built across the street. She would move there even though drug dealers worked the area and most of the neighborhood was run down. Again, the city dragged its feet, constantly sticking unnecessarily difficult-to-complete paperwork in the woman's face.
Meanwhile, drug dealers took over use of the new house, stashing their inventory, dealing and raising dangerous pit bulls. The property _ paid for by taxpayers' money _ is now a public nuisance.
My host now refuses to move into what was a new home.
"I don't want anything to do with that house," she said. "I'd rather stay in this old place with the roof leaking."
This woman is old and poor, and the city of St. Petersburg has let her down. The Police Department should be ashamed. I know personally that top officials have been telephoned about the situation. I know personally that the police have done nothing in recent months to help this woman and her neighbors.
The city has a duty to help people such as my host. A taxpayer-based program is in place to do so. But, as far as I can tell, no one has shown requisite concern for the welfare of these older residents subsisting on fixed incomes and prayers.
Any interested city or police officials or City Council members can reach me at the Times. But they do not need to contact me. They can look among their own ranks and find someone to give them tours and arrange interviews with the victims I speak of.
"They don't care about us," my host said. "They just make up one excuse after another. They have paperwork that can't be completed."
All decent St. Petersburg taxpayers should be outraged. City officials and the police should be ashamed of themselves.