Memorial Service for Two Slain Homeless Men from Tent City -- by SeÃ¡n Kinane01/23/07
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday
Over 3 million men, women, and children were homeless in the United States during the past year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Those numbers are increasing as affordable housing and jobs paying a living wage decline. Violent crimes against the homeless are prevalent. Recent events surrounding a tent city in St Petersburg provide a reminder of the difficulties and dangers faced by the homeless. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports.
Earlier this month, the city of St. Petersburg closed down a Tent City that homeless people had formed. Two new tent sites in St. Pete had sprung up last week. But last Friday without warning, the police and fire departments of the city dramatically descended on a new Tent City and destroyed and removed all of the tents, some of which were being occupied by people who work at night and sleep during the day. Wanda Langdon, is a resident of Tent City. She had just finished setting up her tent at the new site when the St. Petersburg police and fire departments arrived.
“I was highly upset. All of a sudden, there’s 15 cruisers in the driveway. Fire trucks on both sides blocking the entrances and there’s four cops in each car. They came out with box cutters and knives and scissors and just go to town on our tents. … Didn’t give us any warning at all. I talked to an officer like an hour before that and she didn’t say nothing about it. I saw her there and she had tears coming down her face because she knew that she was hurting me.”
Homeless advocate Rev. Bruce Wright runs The Refuge Ministry and was involved in negotiations with the city. He feels that city officials broke their agreement with the residents of the new Tent City.
“As a show of good faith, the officers in charge and the fire marshal in charge agreed, OK, we’re not going to take any action until we consult you. Well, later that afternoon without consulting us, the homeless tent cities were attacked. And we know it’s the mayor because the mayor’s defending it.”
Last Wednesday, a few days after the city shut down the original Tent City, two of the men who had been evicted were found murdered not far away. The victims, Jeff Schultz and David Heath, were remembered at a vigil and memorial service Monday night.
Kenneth Schweinberg is a former resident of Tent City. At the memorial service he recalled worrying with Schultz about what they would do after they were evicted by the city.
“The last time I had seen him was that Friday. He was worried about where he was going, with the homeless people. He was worried just like I was. He didn’t know where he was going the next day. He slept during the daytime and worked during the night. … If they would have kept Tent City open at the time, this probably wouldn’t have happened. I wish I were in his place where he’s at right now. Because of what’s going on.
Tent City resident Tina May blames the death of the two men on the closing of the original homeless camp by the city with the complicity of the St. Vincent de Paul society in their refusal to fight the city’s eviction order.
“The simple fact is, since they closed that place down, they [city / SVDP] put two lives in jeopardy. If they would have never closed that place down, they would have been alive today. I’m sorry to say that but it’s true.”
Another resident of Tent City, Joseph Fox, feels that there’s safety in numbers. “It’s a lot better for us to gather around and stay together because we’ll be able to be accountable for each other and protect each other and stay safer this way. I have a roommate, we look out for each other”
Rev. Wright agrees that there is solidarity and security among the residents of Tent City
“It offered protection, it offered security, it offered all kinds of things. ... At that point, the homeless were very fearful of being booted out of Tent City and the fear had been heightened because of the murders. Their only sense of security was taken away. Then, when the [police] attack happened, pandemonium ensued. People were frightened, angry, worried. We were able to get some semblance of order again.”
Homeless advocates are considering a lawsuit against the city of St. Petersburg to compensate for possessions destroyed in the raid. There are not yet any suspects in the murder of the two men. A smaller tent city remains near the site of the original one, but the homeless and their advocates continue working to find permanent housing solutions.
For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane reporting from St. Petersburg
For More Information on the Tent City:
Complete chronicle of Tent City
Dec 20 - protest and sleepout with homeless - WMNF 88.5 FM
Jan 5 - City to camp: get out SPTimes
Jan 9 - residents feel burned - WMNF 88.5 FM
Jan 10 - OpEd by Mayor Rick Baker - SPTimes
Jan 10 - OpEd by Tent City residents -SPTimes neighborhood sectn
Jan 12 - Letters to editor responding to Baker’s oped - SPTimes
Jan 12 - City to dismantle - TBO
Jan 12 - Faces of Hope - SPTimes
Jan 12 - Tent city not down yet - WMNF 88.5 FM
Jan 13 - City evicts - TBO
Jan 13 - Tent city closes - Bay News 9
Jan 15 - Editorial - Shelter, empathy for needy - SPTimes
Jan 18 - 3 teens sought in slayings of 2 homeless - S.FL Sun-Sentinel
Jan 18 - 2 homeless men slain - SPTimes
Jan 19 - Video Fox13 of Police cutting tents - meanest city?
Jan 20 - Police slash tents - SPTimes on FreeRepublic
Tent City on Myspace
National Coalition for the Homeless / Michael Stoops
St. Pete Food Not Bombs
St Vincent de Paul, South Pinellas Councilhttp://www.svdpsouthpinellas.org/