Hell in the Tropics

 

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St Petersburg devises yet another plan to get rid of the Homeless

The Mayor of St Petersburg, Florida and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office devised a plan to deal with specific problems which the city and the sheriff’s department have with homeless.

The city’s problem is the visible homeless who, after Friday November 6th’s Homeless Leadership Network meeting, will be evermore referred to as “The Chronic”. Mayor Bill Foster, who coined the phrase, defines The Chronic as those homeless on the street who go to the bathroom when no bathrooms are supplied, stand in long lines for feeding, panhandle outdoor diners and sleep in front of City Hall. The “Unplaceables” he said. The Chronic also refers to those who have no choice but to use public property as a public storage facility. The mayor vowed to get rid of The Chronic some months ago, revealing his desire to rid downtown of embarrassing homeless people in time for tourist season. The sheriff’s office has its own problem with homelessness and it revolves around the flooding of the jail with people who have been arrested for homeless ordinances. With a 70% recidivism rate, the jail is bursting at its seams with old problems, and the homeless are stretching jail resources to the breaking point.

The mayor and the sheriff’s office devised a plan. The PSTA bus garage which was seriously considered almost four years ago for a homeless one stop service center and shelter, once again came into play. The bus garage was used as a jail annex to house low impact prisoners, until budget constraints forced jail officials to close it. . It has the capacity to hold five hundred people. This facility will be divided into three sections, one for homeless men, one for homeless women, and one for returning ex convicts fresh from the state corrections system.

A consultant from Texas Dr Robert Marbut was employed with an eight month contact at 5,300 dollars a month. This expert has told St Petersburg officials that hot food enables the homeless. He has observed that he could walk a two block circle and be fed five times. He said as long as there is hot food, and showers and restroom facilities, the homeless will never leave downtown. The city and Dr. Marbut have made overtures to some churches that provide hot meals to stop feeding the homeless.

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The sheriff’s office has said that when the facility opens, those arrested on homeless ordinance violations will be given a choice: Go to the annex, or go to jail.

The mayor of St Petersburg has answered the fears of “If you build it, they will come.”  He assures the public,” This will be no place of comfort”.

The plan calls for the homeless to live outside on a concrete slab in a courtyard at first, and through incentives move indoors to mats on a concrete floor. The food will be cold, but through incentives the homeless will gradually get hot food. Armed security will be onsite twenty four hours a day. The Dr Marbut believes in incentives. “It’s important that you reward good behavior and punish bad behavior”.

The facility is slated to open the first week in January at a estimated cost of about a million dollars a year. The sheriff’s office is willing to sink 600,000 dollars into the venture. The City of St Petersburg says it has 150,000 dollars. The light bill is estimated to be 330,000 dollars a Year.

“We expect the rest of the cities in the county to fall in line ” Mayor Bill Foster explained.” It’s for them too”.

Hell in the Tropics is a series of stories about the City of St Petersburg Florida, and its dealings with the homeless population. This story will also appear in The Homeless Image newspaper later this month.

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