Letter to the Mayor of St. Petersburg

The following is a letter from Board Member G.W. Rolle to St. Petersburg, Florida’s Mayor Bill Foster regarding the city’s recent ban on street solicitations and a letter reaching out to the city’s Homeless Leadership Network. To read the back story, see Mr. Rolle’s previous post.

Dear Mayor Foster,

My name is Gregory Rolle. Most people call me “G.W.”, and you may as well.

The marginalization and the criminalization of the homeless and near homeless is a disgrace and a blight on our city. Housing, Mayor Foster, is a basic human right. Affordable housing is intrinsic in that formula.

Laws that make people criminals by their very definition are laws that criminalize and marginalize that particular definitive group. You see, sir, the number one reason that people are homeless is that they lack housing. Most ne’er do wells, thieves, drug addicts, alcoholics, petty criminals, and prostitutes live inside. The small amount of people who live outside do so because they can either not afford or not negotiate living inside. No one wants to be homeless. When homeless people do get jobs and lift themselves off the street through meager means, such as the sale of the St. Petersburg Times, please tell me how it serves society or St. Petersburg to nix their earning potential and render them again street homeless, by passing laws and ordinances which criminalize certain aspects of that homelessness.

Your letter would be better of better service, sir, by engaging in topics of affordable housing and a cessation of criminalizing ordinances that cost the taxpayers of this city untold thousands, and have been shown to be quite ineffective in reducing street homelessness.

Mayor Foster, every 21 of December for the past three years, the City of St. Petersburg has signed a proclamation stating that housing is a basic human right. Wouldn’t a proclamation stating that housing is a human right year round and a pledge to seek creative involvement, rather than the current criminalization of homelessness, produce a greater yield?

I’d like to close with an example: There is a man who is homeless and a veteran who has spent 320 days in jail since 2008. Most of these are one or two day affairs for open container, public urination or trespassing – homeless crimes. Even by a modest estimate of $126 a day for incarceration this sum is over $30,000.

With the policy the city police have to drive people out into the rain who are seeking shelter, and arrest those who are to slow to comply(statements furnished upon request), we see a fortune in $126 increments pile up before our eyes, whereas we see little change in our homeless population or problem. The Public Defender is all that homeless people have, unless you believe he should be replaced by another lawsuit by outside forces.

Our street outreach team does fabulous work in terms of constructive engagement. We need five more teams. That would save us money and we would begin to see our homeless numbers decrease. Yet I am afraid that without a frank and honest discussion about affordable housing we are just dancing around homelessness instead of dancing with it.

Respectfully Yours,

Gregory (G.W.) Rolle

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