The Great St. Pete Homeless Tent Raid
By HOWARD TROXLER
Published January 22, 2007
He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
- Luke 3:11
Oh, sure, that's the kind of place I want my city to be - a city where, when kind-hearted people donate tents to the homeless, the city stages a raid and cuts them up.
Did they give each other high fives at City Hall afterward Friday? Did they throw each other a party? Bake a cake? Put up a "Mission Accomplished" banner?
Mayor Rick Baker told a St. Petersburg Times reporter on Monday that he didn't know about the raid in advance.
Ah. So that means someone down the chain of command took the initiative and said:
"Hey, I know! Let's go over and roust the homeless and cut up their tents and make unflattering national news, right after two homeless guys got murdered in our city, and after we forced a charity to shut down an earlier tent city! And, furthermore, let's don't tell the boss!"
(Note: The police officers I have seen on the scene have been professional, patient and compassionate. But this decision was not made by them.)
As for the people who had been living in those tents, here is good news.
They all magically disappeared as soon as St. Petersburg sliced and diced their sleeping quarters.
In fact, I heard one of them say:
"I foolishly believed that I, a worthless bum, could just sponge off you suckers in St. Petersburg, but your firm resolve has thwarted me! Now I and all my friends will be leaving your town."
The people living in the tents didn't magically disappear afterward, and few if any of them left town, because ...
Because they are, for the most part, us.
Everybody seems to have their own stereotype about "the homeless." And it's usually one size fits all.
To the mayor, the homeless seem to be uncooperative folks who won't take advantage of all the Wonderful Services the government and the private sector offer. What else do Those People want?
To some of the angry citizens I hear from, the homeless are lazy bums. They are the reason we can't walk through a park, or get off an exit ramp without being harassed.
But quite a few of the people in those tents work at minimum-wage jobs, or day labor, trying to afford a place to live. It was a small comfort for them to have a tent to sleep in, a place where other people might watch their stuff.
Some are families. About a fifth of the total homeless population is under 18.
Without a doubt, some of the homeless have problems. Some aren't getting treated for mental illness. Our society's answer for that one is to throw them in jail for a while.
And, yes indeed, for those of us looking to feel smug, if you look hard enough, you can find addicts, or burglars, or even just plain old bums.
But there is no one "homeless" population, and so there is no one solution.
But even if there were, it would not be just rushing over and cutting up tents - good grief! What kind of people are we?
There's a countywide task force and various advocacy groups. Here's one place to start: the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, 5180 62nd Ave. N, Pinellas Park, FL 33781, (727) 528-5762.