Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Tent City Story

The first tent city was set up at St. Vincent De Paul Society wasn't ideal. It did provide a structured and supervised environment for the homeless. 60 percent of the 140 homeless residents had permanent jobs. They were required to pick up trash, clean the portable toilets and work in the office. Considering that St. Vincent De Paul is a Christian organization; it is unlikely that ministers Bruce Wright and Michael Amidei would have tolerated crime or drug activity.

What has happened is the economic equivalent of a perfect storm. Downtown St. Petersburg was once very poor. New condominiums have been built. The cost of living has increased. The wealthy has moved in and the poor did not have the money to leave. A comment at Feministe explains.


See, there’s this one particular tract of land, about two-thirds of a city block with a total area of about 1.7 acres, which up until two months ago was occupied by a couple dozen run-down old wooden houses, subdivided into weekly rental apartments. They got bought out by developers and last month they knocked all the houses down. (Rats scattered everywhere. One ended up in our department secretary’s office.) There were already a few homeless people hanging out on the street in that neighborhood; with the demolition of that block of cheap rentals the number of homeless people in this vicinity tripled. This block is right on the geographical edge of the latest phase of the ongoing gentrification of downtown St. Petersburg. What used to be a block of lowest-of-the-low cheap rentals will soon be $25-million-plus worth of urban townhouses (65 or so units, starting in the low $400s).


St. Petersburg city officials declared the homeless situation a state of emergency. The Tent city at St. Vincent De Paul was shut down. The homeless moved to 15th Street and Fifth Avenue N. The city told the homeless that they could stay there. Then they raided the homeless camp and cut the tents.



Mike Deesen of WTSP-TV reports (video link) that Major Melanie Bevan thought she was being compassionate. Mayor Rick Baker, Police Chief Chuck Harmon and Bevan admit that the perception is bad. It is also unconstitutuional to seize and destroy personal property.

Police Chief Harmon has ordered a review. Bevan is to write an after action report. Harmon admitted to Deesen that he gave the order. Bevan says she gave the order. My question is why are the Chief and Major are investigating themselves?

Rick Baker says he had no knowledge the new tent city was going to be taken down. There is a reason that is not believable. St. Petersburg is known for being short-staffed. Yet, over 20 police officers, the fire department and waste management raided the camp on January 19 at 4:00 PM. It is hard to believe that an operation of this scale could be planned without the Mayor's office knowing. Baker would not comment to Tampa 13 reporter Steve Nichols the day tent city was cut down. Not exactly a profile in courage.



Nichols reports that the raid was set up during a meeting Baker held that day. Nichols says the raid had the Mayor's "blessing." What is needed is an independent investigation. Anything else would be a white wash.

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2 Comments:

At April 23, 2008 10:18 AM , Anonymous Amanda Elend said...

Hi there,

Just wanted to let you know that we have a link to your site up on MobLogic today.

In the show, MobLogic goes to Ontario, CA. City officials in Ontario set up a Tent City for their homeless. After the number of homeless in the City reached 400, city officials decided to lay down the law. Now, only locals are welcome...if they're willing to be locked up behind a fence.
http://www.moblogic.tv/video/2008/04/23/tent-city-usa/

On the blog: There are tent cities for the homeless set up throughout the country. How much government in these cities is too much?
http://www.moblogic.tv/blog/2008/04/23/mini-america/

Thanks!
Amanda Elend
amanda@moblogic.tv

 
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