Mayor addresses homeless shelter, domestic violence, during monthly breakfast

12/22/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today marked the final 2010 edition of St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster’s monthly mayor’s breakfast. Turnout was low, but a few perennial topics came up as the mayor made his rounds.

Maybe it was the chilly air, or that the event was scheduled so close to a major holiday. Today only about six people showed up to the December mayor’s breakfast, which took place at the Twisted Cork on 34th Street North. The mayor stopped for a long chat at every occupied table, and said this kind of setting puts less pressure on those who want to voice their concerns.

"Well, it's just an opportunity to meet people, but especially over breakfast. It's great to do things in an informal setting to where there's no pressure."

Foster said he’s heard a pretty wide range of topics in these monthly meetings.

"I've heard just about everything from budget, taxes, pools all the way to feral cats. You just run the gamut."

The issue of crime came up more than once. Rebecca Aragon of St. Petersburg spoke with the mayor about domestic violence.

She said Florida law isn’t tough enough on domestic abuse.

"The Florida statute states that the batterer has to hit you two times in six months in order to get a restraining order. So, it's like two bites of the apple and most of the time that second bite is deadly and I just think that it shouldn't be like that. The law to where if he threatens you or hits you just once, that should be enough. Right now I'm living as a prisoner in my own home, you know, and it's horrible. I just want to change it so these other women, or men, whoever's being battered doesn't have to go through that. I think the law should be changed. That's what I'm working for, coming here to get this law changed."

Aragon said in the meantime she wants the mayor to change the way the police handle such cases.

"They're judge and jury out there and he says that maybe they should both go to jail. If the courts figure it out, but, you know, that's not really a solution either, but what does a woman do when a man hits her? Is backing him off of her, trying to get away from him? There's a fine line and they need special trained people to handle that."

Another issue Mayor Foster heard about today was window-rattling car stereos blasting through St. Pete neighborhoods at all hours. Judy Ellis, President of Lakewood Estates Civic Association, brought this one up.

"There are parts of this city where the noise is absolutely relentless. Midtown and the Tyrone area, there are people there who haven't had a decent night's sleep in over 5 years. There house shakes and rattles day and night. We have people who have boarded up their windows, we have people who have put radio station insulation on their walls, a lady who's moved into her guest room because she can't sleep in the front of her house. And it's all because of this relentless thump, thump, thump all night long."

She said a citywide noise ordinance is being challenged in court, so it can’t be enforced. Instead, the city has resorted to a campaign asking residents to write down the license plates of an offending vehicle, and the city will write a letter to the vehicle’s owner asking him or her to keep it down. Today, Ellis said the mayor agreed to pursue a public service announcement to spread the word about the program.

"It sounds idiotically stone age simple that you would get a letter that says somebody reported your tag. You'd be amazed at how effective it is."

Mona Pryor moved back to St. Petersburg from the Philadelphia area. She said she was hoping the mayor would give her tips on how to re-launch her business here.

"I left everything to come here because my daughter has breast cancer. I have some business of my own that I already have set up up there that I was in the process of getting off the ground so I need to check with him about the process of possibly me getting a medicaid provider number here."

She said the mayor’s response was so-so.

"He could use me if I wanted to do some volunteer work, and that he could probably assist me if I'm looking for a job."

One thing that was not brought up today – but what may be on the minds of many Pinellas residents – is the conversion of a jail annex to a homeless shelter. Homeless advocates have likened the shelter to an internment camp. They complain that an ordinance barring sleeping on the streets would mean the homeless would be forced to choose between jail and the shelter, and that forcing anyone to go anywhere is the same thing as incarceration. Today, Mayor Foster defended the new shelter.

"We can do better than a cardboard box on a sidewalk and this is significantly better. They'll be in a secure environment, they'll have running hot water so they can take a shower. They'll have toilets so they don't have to use a bush. They'll have food, they'll have access to entertainment outlets like a TV, or they can play games. So it's significantly better than the street life."

He said the city is not criminalizing homelessness.

"If we can do better, and we actually do better? That's not a right. No one has the right to sleep in front of city hall, that's not something that I think they should be able to do. If we can do better, and we are."

Officials open the shelter to open next month.

A listener asked that we clarify a statement made by St. Pete resident Rebecca Aragon. For a domestic violence injunction for protection one needs only to prove fear of violence by a blood relative or intimate partner. A repeat violence injunction is the one that needs to be two incidents of violence in 6 months.

Previous WMNF coverage of Bill Foster

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