City to the camp: Get out

Published January 5, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - They've only been there a week, but already the homeless men and women encamped on the 1400 block of Fourth Ave N have been ordered to move.

City officials have given the St. Vincent de Paul Society, on whose property the homeless have pitched their tents, one week to evict the 140 inhabitants of the mushrooming tent city christened "Coming Up."

The homeless have lived at the camp since last week, when they moved their tents off public land across the street from the St. Vincent de Paul Society's soup kitchen and around the corner to the vacant lot.

At the time, the move was praised by homeless advocates as a temporary solution while the city looked for a building to use as an additional emergency shelter.

But living in tents, even on private property, is prohibited by city code. Now, the St. Vincent de Paul Society has until Jan. 12 to remove the tents. Society president Sophie Sampson could not be reached Thursday.

The code citation has angered several City Council members, including Chairman Bill Foster, who said the decision to break up the encampment was made without consulting council members. Foster, who spent an hour at the camp Thursday, said many of the residents are "just a few weeks away" from having the money to pay for an apartment. He said to kick them out now makes little sense.

Council member Jamie Bennett also criticized the move, saying police records show the number of homeless loitering in the downtown area fell by 100 in the week since the tent city was established.

Mayor Rick Baker, who some homeless advocates suspect was behind the move to close down the camp, did not return phone calls Thursday.

Times staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report. Alisa Ulferts can be reached at 892-2379 or ulferts@sptimes.com.