3 arrested trying to reclaim tent city

Published May 4, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - A small protest against the city's closing of tent city ended Thursday with the arrests of three people who refused to leave the grassy lot, including a prominent advocate for the homeless.

Eric Rubin, 52, and two homeless people set up a few tents on the grounds of what had been the city-sanctioned tent city Wednesday afternoon, a day after the last few remaining residents left, and said they would not move despite warnings from police. Rubin said they wanted to make a political statement about the city's treatment of the homeless.

"We're going to do civil disobedience, " Rubin said before police moved in.

By Thursday morning, a dozen new tents had sprung up on the lot along Fourth Avenue N, and police decided to take action. After warning the handful of people to leave and offering them space in shelters, police arrested three on misdemeanor trespassing charges: Rubin, Stephen Welsh, 51, and Debra Snively, also 51.

The arrests were routine, though officers had to carry Rubin out of a tent when he refused to leave, then stand him up and walk him to a van.

Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis said he respected the desire of advocates to make a political statement, but said "there's no need for lawlessness."

Just minutes after the press conference ended, police began the arrests and then packed up the tents and belongings left on the site to store. Their approach was in stark contrast with actions in January, when the department received widespread criticism after officers slashed tents with box cutters.

Rev. Bruce Wright, an advocate for the homeless, said he and Rubin wanted to allow homeless people to move into tent city when others left, but the city opposed that plan. Wright said many who left the tent city are back on the streets.

"This has not been a success, " Wright said. "This has been a scam."

Times photographer James Borchuk contributed to this report.