Pinellas homeless shelter gets under the skin of residents and business owners

07/15/11 Andrea Lypka
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Since its opening, Pinellas County’s homeless shelter, Safe Harbor has caused public outrage. The shelter’s population has been growing since St. Petersburg passed an ordinance that prohibits sleeping on sidewalks. Residents and business owners say that crime has increased and home values have gone down since the facility opened in January next to the Pinellas county jail.

Jeff Hoyt has lived in the High Point neighborhood off 49th Street for 32 years and he says his tenants feel in danger. But the Pinellas County’s Sheriff, who runs the shelter, says that not all crimes in the area are committed by people without homes.

This is not enough for Hoyt.

“Well, I think that they need to work on it if they have chronic people that drink a lot…. There is nothing wrong with putting them in Pinellas County jail. That’s why we have the jail,” Hoyt said.

Business owners argued that their businesses are struggling because of public urination, loitering and panhandling

“In the last meeting I asked Sheriff Coats from whom I am going to get my home value from, if I can sue him for what he is doing to my home. … And the city said that they are going to take it from there and take them (the Safe Harbor residents) Downtown St. Pete, let them hang around for the day and then give them a ride back. They just said that and they didn’t do that, did they?”

Ray Lipka who represents an aviation business wanted to know plans to avoid overpopulation in the shelter.

“Are there any talks to create a new Safe Harbor in the near future?” Lipka asked.

Pinellas Sheriff Chief Deputy Bob Gualtieri said that there are no plans to establish other shelters in the county. The shelter is a cost-effective project that provides transition and it provides medical care, mental health, life skills programs and employment training for those in need.

“We can do better as a community. We have these people sleeping in the bushes, in cardboard boxes. Going from there to jail isn’t the solution. It actually just makes the problem worse. The jail cost $126 a day to house people in the county jail, over at the Safe Harbor, it cost $20 a day. Most of it is funded through a lot of federal grants,” Gualtieri said.

Since its opening, the shelter has been expanding. It currently has the capacity for 470 people. Gualtieri says so far, over 1350 people from a variety of age groups have lived in this facility. One of them is Garry Townsend. Before finding a place at Safe Harbor, Garry Townsend has been in and out of jail several times. Now he has a job and a place to stay.

“Can you say that everybody you are complaining about is from Safe Harbor? Instead of hating them, show some love…Give them no money. If they can drink all day, they can work all day,” Townsend said.

The shelter was supposed to be a temporary project. Gualtieri says that it is too early to early to evaluate the program. Locals fear that the influx of homeless people from around the county will continue to negatively impact their neighborhood.

More information about Safe Hope, the Pinellas County shelter

Previous WMNF coverage of Safe Harbor

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