Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tent City rejected in Tampa

A Catholic Charity had hoped to create a tent city for the homeless in Tampa, Florida. But local government officials rejected the plan after protests from people in a neighboring community.

Once again, the homeless are being told to stay in their own little corner of America, wherever that is. The problem with that is, the recession has created many more homeless, and the recession has closed many more shelters.

From the New York Times, writers Damien Cave and Lynn Waddell tell us how the plans were rejected.

Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities for the St. Petersburg Diocese, said the commissioners sidestepped a problem that had been ignored for years. “They just don’t think it’s important, I guess,” he said.

The plan would have used a 12-acre church lot to serve 250 people for up to 90 days in tents and small “casitas” that look like wooden sheds with windows. The diocese opened a similar camp two years ago in nearby Pinellas County, and Mr. Murphy emphasized that the plan for Tampa would have included background checks for the people placed there, along with fences and a round-the-clock police presence.

“People call it a ‘tent city,’ ” Mr. Murphy said. “It’s more a social service model where people come in and do a lot of case work, where we ask, ‘How can we help this person?’ ”

The closest residential neighborhood, East Lake, is across a divided highway and behind a row of businesses — 1,200 feet away in all. That was not nearly enough for Randall Woosely, 46, an unemployed former cab driver living with his sister in East Lake, who came to pressure the commission to vote no.

“I’ve been in jail; I know this criminal element,” Mr. Woosely said, noting that he had just served 10 months on a charge related to stolen property. He added: “I’m not opposed to helping homeless people. It’s just this is no place for that.”

County leaders agreed. Three of those who voted no — Al Higginbotham, Kevin White and Ken Hagan — said there must be a better place for the homeless. They also cited crime as a concern, despite testimony from the police in Pinellas County, who called the camp there a success. Mr. Higginbotham initially seemed to favor the idea. “In these tough financial times, someone has stepped forward and has been willing to reach out a hand of generosity,” he said. “That’s what this country has been foundedon.”

Linda Hinson, 61, a retiree in East Lake, said defeat of the camp plan meant “I don’t have to go out and get a gun.” She declared that there were already enough shelters.

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