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Lealman is ready to tackle homeless issue

A grass-roots effort begins to help those who are down and out. A first meeting reaches out to change hearts and minds.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002

LEALMAN -- A man's voice could be heard drifting down the hall. He was talking about the homeless: "Don't have compassion for them. You can't have compassion."

The down and out are shiftless bums, the voice continued, who could get a job if they really wanted to.

That was the assumption held by several who attended a meeting Wednesday to discuss complaints about the homeless who hang around 28th Street N between 38th and 54th avenues.

By the end of the meeting, that attitude appeared to be in the minority. A steering committee was formed to come up with suggested solutions. The approximately 90 attendees agreed to come back in mid-July to discuss those recommendations and to find a way to placate irate residents and get as many of the homeless back on their feet as possible.

"I know some people are going to leave here disappointed," said John Frank, a board member of the Lealman Community Association, referring to residents who complained they were tired of having the homeless camped out in their neighborhood.

Chasing transients away is not the answer, he said, because they'll just go somewhere else. "Let's set the foundation and really try to solve the problem."

The next meeting will be 7 p.m. July 17 at Lealman Fire Station No. 18, 4027 56th Ave. N. For information, call community association board member Steve Bleier, 527-8418. The meeting is open to the public.

The decision to look for a solution rather than drive away the transients came as no surprise to the county's Frank Bowman, who is working with neighbors to revitalize Lealman.

"I had some expectation that the Lealman community would have some compassion and look for a solution," Bowman said. Many in Lealman have little money, Bowman said, so they understand how easy it is to lose everything.

Residents blamed the prevalence of homeless on the availability of programs to help them. Until Friday when it closed, Mid-Pinellas Homeless Outreach Drop-In Center provided showers, toiletries, telephones and access to medical services.

The Solid Rock Church, which runs a recovery center at 4224 28th St. N, provides a daily meal and church services.

But the Rev. Glenn Miller, Solid Rock's pastor, and Lynn Rogers, who ran the drop-in center, denied that charge, saying they only came to the area because the homeless were already there.

Likewise, others jumped to defend the down and out at Wednesday's meeting.

They told horror stories of the way people became homeless. Of the stockbroker who lost his job, ran through his savings while trying to find employment and is living on the street dying of hepatitis. Of the man who's "this close" (with thumb and index finger a quarter-inch apart) from a psychology degree. He hurt his back and had no insurance.

"The homeless are all over the United States," said Pat Erdmann. "They're not going to go away unless we kill all of them. ... Treat them with a little courtesy, respect, not knowing their situation. You'll get respect back."

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