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Tent city residents are a part of the community

Letters to the Editor
Published January 10, 2007


We the residents of the St. Petersburg Tent City ask for your support and love. You may have read about the tent city in the papers or saw us on the TV. You have seen our tents, maybe even our faces; now we want to share with you our hearts.

Who are we? More than 60 percent of our tent city people work full time. We build your condominiums, clean your houses, and serve and cook your food in the restaurants. We have slept on the streets, in your alleys, on your beaches and in your parks, trying for nothing more than to get a good night's sleep without being arrested, beaten or rained on.

For many of us, the tent city has allowed us our first good night's sleep in months or years. We can leave our possessions, our books, our family pictures and our lives in the safety of a tent as we rise after a good night's sleep to either go to work or find work. Instead of working to pay $125 a week for a cockroach-ridden motel, we now live among new friends and can save our money and not be ripped off by these motels.

Most of us came alone to the camp. Now we are a community, just like yours, except we live in tents.

"We have close to 75 people from all different backgrounds who have voluntarily come together for something better. We are setting rules, following them. We are a community - not a crisis!" - Michael Jones, resident.

"In a city that has been torn by racial strife, we stand united as a diverse community, blacks and whites working together for one common goal - dignity and decent housing for all. We hope our tent city sends a message to others that people can come together no matter what their race or religion is with common purpose and a common goal, and we made history!" - Sebastian Teraud Grimmage, resident.

The press calls the tent city a crisis. They are wrong. We are not a crisis. We are a success and a solution! The crisis is that we live in a society that refuses to support those in need. Many of us have lost jobs or gone through divorces, some of us struggle with substance abuse and mental health problems - the same as people in your neighborhood! The difference is simply that for many of us we have not had family or friends to fall back on and have then found ourselves on the streets. In the tent city we have developed both friends and family and trust.

We have all signed a contract that we have written. For instance, No. 2 of the rules is "I WILL pledge a minimum of FOUR hours a week to maintaining the integrity of the SPTC beyond my own tent." And what do we do? We pick up the trash, maintain the portabole toilets, work in the tent city's office, and work as part of the tent city press group. We are barbers who cut hair. We have two men who fix bicycles donated to us so that members of our community can have transportation to work. We have people who are mediators in disputes, guard our community, cut our grass, and trim our trees. We contribute to both our community and your city. Many of us pay taxes just like you.

Now we are under attack by the mayor of St. Petersburg. St. Vincent de Paul gave us a vacant weed- and garbage-ridden lot that in just over a week has been turned into a functioning and caring community. We are told that the tent city must be closed because it is unsanitary. Where was this concern when we were living in alleys and sleeping on the streets? Now we have portable toilets, water and a trash bin! The social service agencies are now scrambling for more money to serve the homeless, with the promise of giving us mats for a few days or a few weeks. Why would they want this when for many of us the tent city provides not only protection, but also a nurturing community?

We are not asking for much. We would love for the city to give us a building to house the homeless. We have shown that we can create a community. Just imagine what we could do with a building!

Our request is simple. If you are not going to help us, please leave us alone. St. Vincent de Paul is being threatened with ridiculous zoning citations. All we ask is that you let us stay, let us work, let us keep our community so that we can earn money, find places to live, and help others in our situation. If the St. Vincent de Paul property is a problem, how about giving us a piece of property that the city owns and allow us to continue to do what we are doing?

We are productive members of this city. We love, we hurt, and we share the same dreams and hopes that others who have homes do. All we ask is for support and love. We are your sisters and brothers as you are ours.

Sebastian Grimmage, Tina May, Richard Carlson and Wayne Thomas Kennell Jr., on behalf of the 73 residents of the St. Petersburg tent city

Who is your master? 

Tent city ordered off its location Jan. 5, story

A few months ago we were treated to an article about St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker's Christian faith.

I suggest that he read Matthew 6:24: "No man can serve two masters ... You cannot serve God and wealth." Baker's actions in regard to the tent city for the homeless bring his choice of masters into question. One would expect more compassion from him for those who, like Jesus was, are homeless. Evicting the tent city residents when there is no other place for them to go but the street is unconscionable.

I have more respect for Pastor Bruce Wright and his tireless efforts on behalf of the homeless.

Robert A. Van Wyk, St. Pete Beach


What would Jesus do?

Shame on St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker for wanting to shut down the homeless tent city, located on the 1400 block of Fourth Ave. N, on the pretense that this encampment violates a city ordinance that prohibits a tent on private property

Baker, who professes to be a Christian man with strong moral character and family values, is instead a man who willingly will hurt the lives of those unfortunate souls who do not have a "place" to call home.

We should not judge the homeless. We as human beings should do all we can to help those who, for whatever reason, are not able to help themselves. Those are not only Christian values, but also human values. Mayor Baker, I ask you this: Would Jesus close down the tent city?

Marianne Huber, St. Petersburg


[Last modified January 10, 2007, 07:06:52]

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