Homeless advocate wary of proposed Pinellas shelter

12/03/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Network met at what it’s calling the Annex II facility, the proposed site for a homeless complex and jail diversion program. The complex would also house convicts transitioning back into the community after their sentences. Homeless advocates are critical of the site. Reverend Bruce Wright is a homeless advocate in Pinellas. He says the 49th street facility is eerily close to the county jail.

"But essentially it's just a jail annex. They're looking at turning it into a facility for the homeless to force them to go there, pretty much either go there or to jail. We're very concerned about it as a human rights issue. It smacks of what we saw with some of the immigration jails, or the internment camps in the 40's of Japanese. We just have grave concerns about it because A, to force someone to go there is a human rights violation and B, to put someone even close to a jail or a jail annex, turning it into a homeless shelter and making it look all nice and pretty still doesn't change the fact that it's part of the jail facility and we think it further criminalizes the homeless community."

Didn't they mention they wanted to address the fact that people transitioning from prison would be intermingling with people who are homeless for other reasons?

"Oh yeah, there's grave concerns about that, too. We don't know what the jail population they're talking about is going to be intermingled with those in the homeless community and there's going to be women at this shelter as well. And they're not going to be offering a lot of facility. They're basically still going to have to sleep on the floor, and have cold food, and maybe if they behave, which is treating them like animals, in essence, you know, Pavlov's dogs, if they behave they'll be able to move to a nicer place. It's just the whole concept, it's very, very, almost creepy and science fiction-like, you know, akin to something like what the Nazi's did. Really, anybody who's concerned about human rights should be speaking out against this. It's not even in keeping with the federal government's plan which is a 'housing first' model. We have hundreds of vacant houses and apartment complexes in Pinellas County, why aren't we looking at those? Why are they looking at this? Well, it's simply because the mayor, Mayor Foster, does not want homeless people visible, especially during tourist season and the holiday season."

So, what you are saying is people are going to be forcibly brought to this facility under the current plan?

"Yeah, under the current plan, there's a law that states if you are offered a shelter bed you have to take it, no matter what it is. In other words, if you're sleeping on the street and they offer you a space, you have to take it. It's either that or go to jail or leave. In other words, leave the county."

That was homeless advocate Reverend Bruce Wright. He says his ministry will lead a march to St. Pete’s city hall next Friday, which is Human Rights Day, to protest the facility.

Previous WMNF coverage of homelessness

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