Recent attacks on homeless camps in Lakeland, Florida again bring to light the persecution that the homeless face in this Country, this State, Central Florida, and St. Petersburg. These attacks are not dissimilar to the ones that happened in St. Petersburg many months ago. The tent slashing and other victimization by police, as well several beatings and five homicides of members of the homeless community, underscore how vulnerable the homeless are.
Recent efforts by Catholic Charities and other agencies to create a tent city in mid-county are laudable, but ill-timed and ill- planned. To many they even appear suspicious, as an attempt to do the bidding of the Mayor and move the homeless out of downtown for tourist season. Additionally, without significant input of the homeless community in the planning, governance, and operation of the tent city, the effort is problematic.
Finally, with the recent passage of an ordinance that essentially criminalizes the homeless for sleeping outside, when there is nowhere else to go, it raises concerns for advocates and the homeless community that the mid-county tent city will be used by the city and the police to force the homeless community to go there, despite being told that it would be voluntary. In fact, numerous members of the homeless community have told us that the St. Pete Police have already threatened to do just that. They have been told that by December 1 they will not be allowed in Williams Park.
With these concerns in mind, the Interfaith Shelter Committee agreed unanimously that the Leadership Network and the Homeless Coalition will bring before the Mayor, the City Council, and the Police Department a resolution to be signed by the Mayor, City Council, and the Police Department, that the mid-county tent city will not be used as an enforcement tool to force the homeless out of downtown. However, thus far, there has been no movement by the Leadership Network on this and no word from the city. In the coming weeks, based on response to this resolution, homeless advocates, members of the homeless community, and supporters will be planning actions to be announced.
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