National group to report on hate

Homeless advocates will speak in bay area.

Published January 26, 2007

The spotlight on the homeless situation in St. Petersburg is about to get brighter.

The National Coalition for the Homeless, a prominent advocacy group, plans to issue its annual report on hate crimes against the homeless at a news conference in St. Petersburg.

Michael Stoops, the organization’s acting executive director, said they chose St. Petersburg because of the recent murders of two homeless men and raids that led to police slashing tents that sheltered the homeless.

Stoops said the coalition, which has been in touch with local advocates for the homeless, would hold its news conference in the first or second week of February.

“The harsh political climate in St. Petersburg could cause further violence against the homeless,” Stoops said.

“When cities pass laws that say you can’t feed the homeless or you can’t camp or you can’t beg, it gives the impression that it’s OK to go out and harm homeless people and nobody will give a damn.”

City officials raided homeless camps Jan. 19 because they said the tents were fire hazards, and that people cooked and smoked cigarettes inside them.

Since the raids, more tents have gone back up at a camp at Fifth Avenue N and 15th Street. Police don’t anticipate any more raids since many tents now have fire extinguishers.

Police have not yet identified a motive for the killings of David Heath, 53, and Jeff Shultz, 43.

Heath’s family buried him Friday and is asking people to post their memories of him at the site davidheathmemorial.com. Both men were gunned down within an hour after midnight Jan. 17. Police found their bodies in alleys just nine blocks apart.

Last year, the coalition issued its annual report on hate crimes in Fort Lauderdale, where three teenagers were arrested and accused of beating a homeless man to death.

Dave Metz, the city’s deputy mayor for neighborhood services, said Mayor Rick Baker and other officials had not been in contact with Stoops or the coalition but were open to talking to them.

“I think in recent weeks, certainly the focus has been on St. Petersburg with some of the issues we face,” Metz said.

“I think that focus creates an opportunity for us.”

The coalition’s annual hate crimes report documents the locations of assaults on the homeless around the country, including case descriptions and statistics.

Last year’s report documents nine separate incidents in Florida during 2005 that resulted in one death. Stoops said the number of attacks on the homeless in the state had been increasing in recent years.

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.