The dilemma began in recent weeks as a tent city was created in St Petersburg, Florida. The tent city was initially designed as a place where the homeless could live with the hope of becoming a lasting solution. Now it has become a tent city under attack! St Petersburg mayor Rick Baker is attempting to have the facility closed, due to what he deems as unsanitary conditions.
The tent city was set up a couple short weeks ago on 4 acres of vacant land at St Vincent De Paul Society. Bruce Wright and Michael Amidei are 2 christian ministers who are credited with helping to set the camp up. They have vowed to set up another camp within St Petersburg, if city officials fail to come up with a more permanent solution for the problem. Wright who is the founder of Refuge Ministries, has been an advocate for the homeless for years. They both claim the homeless situation has been a crisis in this waterfront city for too long. Now with all the media attention on this issue, the stage has been set for a fight.
Downtown St Petersburg, in recent years has enjoyed tremendous growth. With multi-million dollar condominiums going up everywhere, Baker and city officials are now worried more than ever, that the homeless will give the new look downtown a black eye. An emergency meeting was called for last Friday (Jan. 5th) to address the tent city situation. At the meeting, Pinellas County officials declared St Petersburg’s homeless situation a crisis. Sarah Snyder, who is the executive director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the homeless said “it’s a crisis because there is a concentration of homeless folks in a tent city in a place their not supposed to be”. Not that the city has been overrun with more homeless people recently, but now they have become so much more visible being concentrated in one area. In any event, city code does not allow for people living in tents. Officials have contacted a realtor, and may attempt to locate a vacant building somewhere within the city as a possible solution to house the homeless.
The 4 acre site next to the St Vincent De Paul Society was a vacant lot, overgrown with weeds and full of trash. The new residents cleaned it up before pitching their tents. They even made rules for the permanent residents. Per the contract they all signed, each person pledged to spend 4 hours a week maintaining their tent city. Duties included picking up the trash, cleaning the portable toilets, work in the tent city office, and working as part of the tent city press group. The residents claim their new city affords them a place to keep their belonging without the worry of them being stolen. Others said it was the first good nights sleep they had in months. Of the 140 homeless people who have stayed there, more than 60% have regular jobs. After spending years sleeping on the streets and in back alleys, this city has given them the feeling of having their own community. However that community feeling could be short lived if the city gets its way. City officials are prepared to start assessing fines against St Vincent De Paul Society for code violations, if they don’t agree to evict the homeless and their tents by Friday, January 12th. This could turn out to be a real dogfight as it unfolds.
As of Friday January 12, city officials established a 12 midnight deadline for the tent city residents to be out. Church officials at St Vincent De Paul Society have now decided to honor the city’s wishes. They are asking the homeless residents to move out by noon, to ensure the deadline is met. Even though the city can’t legally force them out because the tent city is located on private property, they appear inclined to begin assessing fines for code violations if the deadline is not met.
It appears after years of trying to get help from the city, the homeless may once again fall short on an opportunity that could have resulted in a more permanent solution. Attempts are still being made by advocates for the homeless to resolve the situation. However as of now, it appears as if the city will get it’s way. At least for now!