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    A brush with the law becomes a blessing

    Bob Decaire works to feed homeless people. He was cited in October for trespassing while doing the job, but it has helped his program.

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 30, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- The way Bob Decaire sees it, what is happening with his help-the-homeless program is just another example of how God works in enigmatic ways.

    Decaire, coordinator of TLC Ministries, was cited for trespassing Oct. 14, after he moved a group of homeless people he was feeding into a city parking garage to get out of the rain. He pleaded no contest to the charge and was fined $225.

    After publicity about the case, Decaire has received about a dozen phone calls from people wanting to help his ministry. He has received enough money to cover the cost of the fine, along with a number of turkeys and a host of volunteers.

    "The Lord works in mysterious ways," Decaire said Tuesday. "And I trust that everything will be fine."

    Decaire and his volunteers were feeding homeless people on Oct. 14 at a designated patch of land across from the police station downtown. A rain and lightning storm swept into the area, prompting Decaire move the operation into the city parking garage across the street.

    Signs on that building warn that people can park there only if they are conducting city business. Decaire was not.

    Police asked him to move. When he did not, officers issued him a notice to appear in court on a criminal charge of trespassing after a warning, a first-degree misdemeanor.

    Police said they were concerned that feeding the homeless in the garage could lead to health problems if food or garbage was left behind. Allowing feeding to occur anywhere in the city also defeats the point of having designated areas where charity groups can feed the homeless, police said.

    Decaire and the people he feeds were upset by the citation, but Decaire decided on Dec. 16 to plead no contest to the trespassing charge based on the advice of an attorney. Judgment against him was withheld.

    Decaire said he has the option of doing charity work that would chip $7 off the fine for every hour of work he performs. He has 90 days to decide.

    "I'm not really sure that I'm not just going to go ahead and pay it and just have it over with," said Decaire, 69, of Seminole.

    Decaire said the group, which includes about 20 volunteers, is considering raising money to buy tent-like shelters that would keep homeless people dry during rain. He said one caller already has donated a screen room to his ministry.

    His group fed up to 300 people a Christmas dinner the evening of Dec. 23. He said a homeless man gave him a prized donation during the dinner.

    "The one thing that touched my heart the most was one of the homeless people came up to me and gave me a dollar to pay the fine," Decaire said. "I really was touched by that."

    -- Chris Tisch can be reached at (727) 445-4156 or .

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