St. Petersburg Florida is in the crosshairs of a lawsuit for targeting the homeless. Perhaps this might just be the beginning because so many of the new homeless are people who lost their homes and have nowhere to go.
St. Petersburg officials and police are said to be using local ordinances in order to arouse homeless persons and deprive them of constitutional rights, according to the federal lawsuit. A 63 page complaint has been filed on behalf of six defendants on the matter. Tulin Ozdeger, the national center's civil rights director said, "We urge the city to look at solutions for homelessness rather than penalizing people for their status of being homeless," said
"They are penalizing people for doing the things they need to do to survive," Ozdeger said.
Issues mentioned in the lawsuit include St. Petersburg officers using the city laws concerning trespass outside storage and other rulings to illegally stop and search homeless individuals and sometimes seize their property. Videos of St. Petersburg police slashing tents of the homeless got national attention. Statistics gathered by the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, the says there are 6,235 homeless people in Pinellas, with 2,232 living within the city of St. Petersburg. The lawsuit documents 3,789 people were arrested from 2005 until April 2008.
All of this comes at a time when according to the Pew Charitable Trust 1 in 26 Florida homes will end up in foreclosure in the next several years. It is considered to be a serious crisis in the state of Florida with more and more people left without housing.
St. Petersburg, however, is not the only community in crisis. Hawaii was experiencing a housing crisis beginning a couple years ago. The crisis is only mounted with the economic downturn that is causing people to lose jobs in the tourist industry and elsewhere, which means more and more people are unable to afford the high cost of housing. Many of the homeless have been living in Ala Moana Park, a situation which I observed during a business trip in 2007. Since then, according to reports, the homeless have been moved to the West Coast of Oahu, where many live on the beaches or in a few homeless shelters in that area.
Oregon ranks number six in the rate of homeless persons in 2007, but since then has been making concerted efforts to end homelessness. Using 2005 numbers, it was found Oregon had 16,221 homeless people or about 4.5 out of every 1000 Oregonians. Those states that scored higher in homeless populations included Hawaii, California, Colorado, Rhode Island and Nevada. Since those statistics were developed the nation is entered recession, and there have been increasing foreclosures in some of these states.
Given the high rate of homelessness from the recession in different parts of the country, affecting working people as well as the unemployed, it is likely many people advocating the rights of the homeless will be waiting for the outcome of the lawsuit in St. Petersburg.