Drugs, Crime, overwhelm area near shelter

Posted at 4:08 PM, May 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-05 16:08:53-04

"Right now you got all these people selling crack, selling spice, walking up and down the sidewalk," said Alphonso Sherman.

Sherman has called 5th Avenue North in St Pete home for 35 years.

It's a neighborhood he says he doesn't recognize anymore.

"I come home from work, my wife comes home from work, these drugged out people are laying out in my yard passed out," said Sherman. "I've been forced to call police, I just don't know what to do anymore."

In fact, a lot of people have called police in the area surrounding the St. Vincent De Paul shelter.

City Council member Karl Nurse says police have handled nearly 1000 calls in that area in the last year alone. He adds there were another 2,678 EMS calls.

Just a month ago, 25 people were treated for sickness after smoking spice in a park across the street from the shelter.

"The city's contribution to the center has tripled since 2013, but the problems only get worse," said Nurse.

"Frankely the shelters not well run. They have an $8 million budget."

A budget that goes to pay for food and beds, but does not include a substance abuse program. Nurse says drug and substance abuse programs are essential in stemming the area's crime and drug problem.

As our camera rolled, we captured a man smoking what appeared to be spice before tripping out against our news car. This happened right outside the shelter's district office.

"We need to hit the pause button and say, 'You guys need to present us with a plan to fix this before you come to us for more money,'" said Nurse.

An additional police substation was added to help the area with it crime, but nurse says it time for leaders at the shelter to help themselves.

Home owners like Alphonso Sherman can only prey for resolution because selling his home with area it's in now may not be easy.

"We can't just move.  We've invested so much time and money into this property," said Sherman. "If the community and our leaders don't help to get rid of this problem, then we're stuck."

Officials with St Vincent De Paul issued this statement:

St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) shares the neighborhoods’ concern about the increased number of homeless within the City.

SVdP has responded to the City’s requests to shelter and provide case management to the street homeless. Last year, St. Vincent de Paul service more than 2,700 unduplicated homeless individuals through its CARE Center.
However, the path to rehousing is virtually non-existent; unless they happen to be a veteran.  

We are calling upon the City to begin to elevate the dialogue within the City from ‘managing’ homelessness to actually ‘ending’ homelessness.  

SVdP is successfully leading such charge to end veteran homelessness using a ‘housing first’ rapid re-housing model.  The same strategy and efforts needs to begin for the homeless families with children and individuals in out community. The fact of the matter is the only solution for homelessness is housing – and rapid access to it – with a complete disregard for the previously assumed barriers (such as lack of stock; or the need for sobriety before entering housing.

We are not the first City (and probably not the last) attempting to recover from the failed strategy of the Marbut model (who believes in housing FOURTH or FIFTH).  Housing FIRST is the only proven strategy!  It is working in our community – and working across the country!

Finally, any move to delay or cease funding at this time would place your efforts back > 10 years.  There is no place in the Country wherein ceasing homeless "management" efforts had ended homelessness in the community.  As you know, there are multiple homeless management ordinances on your books that will instantly become unconstitutional. As partners, we are on the verge of greatness!

Sheila Lopez, our Chief Operating Officer, is in the audience – and available to be called upon.  I look forward to our meeting on this subject in two weeks!