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Special report: The homeless struggle

Tent city: Back to site one

The homeless camp would return to its original site under stricter rules for 90 days.

By ALISA ULFERTS
Published March 1, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - The community of homeless people clustered in tents near downtown would be moved one more time under an agreement announced Wednesday.

Working in conjunction with advocates for the homeless and groups that provide them with services, city officials intend to relocate the impromptu tent city - now on 18th Street - back to the empty lot it occupied on Fourth Avenue N before the city shut it down in January.

If City Council members agree in a workshop scheduled for today, the city will issue a temporary use permit waiving prohibitions against living in tents. No more than 75 tents would be permitted for no more than 90 days while more permanent housing was sought.

"This is for a limited number of tents and a limited period of time," Mayor Rick Baker said Wednesday at a press conference.

The city also intends to tighten its ordinances to prohibit any more tents from being pitched in the public right of way.

Temporarily moving the tent city from its current sprawling location on the public right of way to an enclosed lot owned by the St. Vincent de Paul Society was an option that got strong support last week at a homeless summit sponsored by the city.

Attendees of the summit - which included business, neighborhood and homeless leaders - also voiced a desire for the city to close certain loopholes in local ordinances that allow camping in the public right of way.

City Council members today will consider changes to city ordinances, including adding prohibitions against sleeping in right of way that is adjacent to residential property, tents in any right of way, and sleeping in the right of way when the individual has been offered space in a shelter.

Those changes will require public hearings, and final approval would take several weeks.

But council members could vote today on granting the permit to move tent city. If they do, the tent city could be moved as early as Friday. The city will coordinate 24-hour security, access to services, toilets and a buffer to protect nearby neighbors, said Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis.

Asked why city leaders are willing to waive the tent prohibitions when they weren't before, Baker said this time around all parties are on the same page, working toward a solution.

"When St. Petersburg has a problem, this is how we deal with it. We meet and we talk," Baker said, referring to the summit.

Pat Waltrich of the St. Vincent de Paul Society agreed that there was more cooperation on all sides, which made her organization willing to allow its lot to be used again.

"It's a collaborative effort," Waltrich said.

Eric Rubin, an advocate who has represented the residents of the tent city, said he polled the tenters and that they unanimously agreed to the move and the conditions attached to it.

Homeless in crisis

December 2006: Tents begin appearing across the street from the St. Vincent de Paul center. They soon move to a tent city formed on a lot on Fourth Avenue N.

Jan. 5: City orders the tent city shut down and offers services to help relocate. Not all are helped, and some return their tents to the old site.

Jan. 17: Two homeless men are slain within an hour of each other.

Jan. 19: Police slash tents of homeless camped out near St. Vincent center. The slashing is caught on tape and posted on YouTube.

Jan. 30: Mayor Rick Baker announces a five-point plan to resettle tent city residents.

Feb. 6: Police arrest 2 men in connection with the slayings.

Feb. 24: City holds summit on homelessness.

[Last modified March 1, 2007, 06:01:31]


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