Report: Pinellas Hope off to a good start

12/06/07 Mitch E. Perry
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On Saturday, a new Tent City opened in mid-Pinellas County. After five days of operation, there are 180 people on site, living in 171 tents.

The camp is a joint project between Catholic Charities, Pinellas County, and the city of St. Petersburg.

This morning the St. Pete City Council heard a progress report on the status of the camp from the city’s Housing & Community Department head Tom De Yampert.

City Councilman Bill Foster visited the encampment, called Pinelllas Hope, last Saturday. He said he was impressed with the setup.

The opening of Pinellas Hope is not without controversy. Homeless advocates have criticized the project on a number of fronts. They say the homeless in St. Petersburg are concerned that they could be subject to arrest because of a new ordinance passed earlier this year that prohibits sleeping on the public right of way when shelter space is available.

Deputy Mayor Tish Elston says the city does not plan to enforce that ordinance just yet.

But some of the homeless in downtown St. Petersburg have indicated that they believe the site, located at 126th Avenue at 49th Street North, is too far away.

Foster said he’s growing weary of seeing members of the homeless sleeping overnight in front of City Hall.

DeYampert said he understood Foster’s concerns, but his department still had a lot of work to do informing the homeless community about Pinellas Hope. The City has an outreach team that is doing just that.

Foster said the city was doing a lot to help those who need a helping hand. But for the others, he said essentially they can take a hike.

City Council Chair Jamie Bennett called Pinellas Hope a good step forward. He stressed that everybody needs to allow for some time to settle in before deciding what to do next with the homeless situation in St. Pete.

Pinellas Hope is providing one free meal – a dinner each night. Bennett said citizens can help out by providing hot dogs and hamburgers that can be grilled there.

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