Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

Why does St. Pete continue to disparage the homeless without working toward solutions?

3419380851_f0eba9e893_oI love the daily paper. In no other publication can you read one article full of facts, shedding light on some problem and then read a columnist in the next section completely unaware of said facts and making uneducated statements. I bring this up, because I just finished my Sunday edition of the St. Petersburg Times.

In the Metro section, one reporter details the results of the 2009 Pinellas County homeless count. The statistics areĀ  not surprising:

There’s been a 20 percent jump in homeless folks over 2007’s count. Despite the best efforts of Pinellas Hope, the number of homeless without any kind of shelter is up nearly 83 percent. And children make up nearly a third of those without homes.

Then I hop on over to the Perspectives section for Bill Maxwell’s column. His headline?

“Homeless Disrupting Our Lives.”

In his column, Maxwell rails against the Salvation Army and its homeless denizens who dare glare at his neighbors. Here’s a snippet:

Homeless people from the Salvation Army facility on Fourth Street S have disrupted life for my neighbors and me.

And we are angry.

Most days, a few of the homeless men who own vehicles park in front of our homes for many hours. Some stay all day, except when they are running errands to buy booze and cigarettes. Some play loud music and shout at the top of their lungs. I often see a few men urinating in the bushes. Two weeks ago, a couple had sex in their van in clear view of anyone who passed.

One man regularly stares down my neighbors when they drive past. One neighbor said she feels as if the man is challenging her to say something to him. The same man also stares me down when I drive by.

Angry stares, middle fingers, loud music, oh my! Don’t worry — Bill Maxwell is on the case!

Nevermind the drive-by shootings regularly occuring in the surrounding neighborhoods, or the rapid gentrification that threatens decent affordable housing in South St. Pete. Nevermind the city’s great economic woes, or the corrupt politics that disrupt our lives daily. Nope — I’m on deadline and need a column so lets attack the lowest of the low: the bums.

I’m slightly sympathetic to Maxwell. I lived across from that Salvation Army shelter, too. But you know what bothered me more than the homeless tramping down my block? The wannabe gangsters running through my yard with guns, and the rapist teenager down the street.

I’m not saying Maxwell doesn’t have a point. But why is that anytime a homeless person does something negative, an entire population of down-on-their-luck folks are blamed? No other group of citizens — black, white, religious, non-religious, straight or gay — are so easily labeled and stereotyped as the homeless. (Well, maybe our gay friends.)

Imagine if I wrote a blog post about the young black kids in my old neighborhood “playing music loud, shouting at the top of their lungs and staring me down” as I pass by, and then headlining my post: “Blacks disrupting our lives.”

Yeah, that wouldn’t fly. But it’s perfectly acceptable to label all homeless folks as bad-mannered chronic urinators infecting our clean, safe neighborhoods. In the same Sunday edition as another story talking about how a third of all homeless are kids!

Oh, don’t worry: Maxwell has a nice qualifier toward the end of his rant. He’s not uncompassionate. He’s “always been accepting of the homeless.” He’s even “donated money, clothes, food and books” to them! He was even homeless once!

After a headline and several graphs attacking the homeless, I’m led to believe he’s a stand-up guy? All I could think of while reading that was: “Gee, I’m not racist. I have black friends!”

Look, the homeless are like any other group of individuals: they are not all the same. There are guys that have drifted from one state to another with no purpose of ever leaving the vagabond lifestyle. There are others who fell on unfortunate circumstances and try desperately to get out of the hole. There are dirty homeless and homeless who make it a point to stay clean throughout the day. There are kids who are homeless through no fault of their own. There are mentally-ill homeless, who might not be giving you a bad look at all. Their face may just look like that after years in the sun without a shelter.

But attacking a whole group of people — most of whom will never read your column because they save their pennies for food — is irresponsible. Most of all, it does nothing to help solve the problem of people on our streets. And you know what? This attitude I see from politicians, cops and citizens in this town toward the poor, is probably why that guy in front of your house flips you off. Maybe if you had went up to those street denizens, offered your sympathy and had a conversation, we all wouldn’t have had to read this shitty column.

And I could’ve gone back to enjoying my unemployment vacation instead of writing this ranting post.

(Those of you looking for a more elequent case against Maxwell’s column, I suggest reading the latest TimesLetters to the Editor. The first writer makes my point much more eloquently.)

Photo Credit: ImageMD/Flickr

3 thoughts on “Why does St. Pete continue to disparage the homeless without working toward solutions?”

  1. kombatrock says:

    tell em alex…by the way, is there still rapid gentrification going on in south st. pete?

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