Local leaders gathered at a Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority (PSTA) meeting Wednesday morning to discuss the agency’s role in supporting the region’s homeless population.
Representatives from the Homeless Leadership Alliance, St. Vincent de Paul Cares, and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) joined PSTA’s planning committee to brainstorm potential solutions. Commissioner Renee Flowers requested a Wednesday morning discussion at the Aug. 23 board meeting as part of a motion to implement Sunrunner fares starting Oct. 1.
This applies to those who want to start charging electronically in August to help alleviate the homeless population and those who want to wait until the previously scheduled start date of November 1st. It was a compromise between the people who But Ms. Flowers said at the beginning of the conversation that her goal was not to discuss fares, but to support unsheltered people in other ways.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t go to the beach,” Flowers added. “But who is going against the St. Pete Beach ordinance? You can’t sleep on the beach. In most cities, parks are closed at certain times.”
St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders expressed confusion over the evolving topic. She said her initial discussion considered criminalizing homeless people who used the free bus rapid transit service in St. Pete Beach.
She noted that the conversation had turned to introducing fares for people traveling to the beach from West St. Petersburg’s Sunrunner station. “And not the other way around. It’s definitely targeted at the homeless population,” Figgs-Sanders said.
Several St. Pete Beach homeowners and business owners expressed concern that homeless passengers would bring crime and vagrancy to the community. At the Aug. 23 board meeting, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said, “Instead of sleeping at Williams Park in St. Pete, we could take Sunrunner to St. Pete Beach and sleep in the sand.” Rumors spread that it was possible.” Performer. “
The Dolphin Village Shopping Center, located across from the Gulf Boulevard Sunrunner stop, has seen a 535% increase in calls for service from a year ago, Gualtieri said. He also told the commission that the community is safe and that “this is a social crime. It’s a crime associated with this chronically homeless population.”
The board voted 13-2 to begin collecting fares starting Oct. 1. “My understanding is that this is where this conference was born,” Figgs-Sanders said Wednesday.
“I was concerned because not every organization in the city is doing great work for unhoused voters,” she added. “But first, we talk about the impact of collecting that fare across the board and moving it into October.”
Figgs-Sanders also wanted to discuss how the PSTA can help ensure those in need can continue to ride the Sunrunner for free. The Planning Commission had no objections to either concept.
But the Rev. Andy Oliver said it would be illegal for a police officer to revoke his authority to be in a public place after receiving a threat of trespass. I have a video of a homeless man who is not violating any ordinance being asked to leave St. Pete Beach. ”
Dr. Kanika Tomalin, president of the St. Petersburg Health Foundation, said her invitation to the meeting included a series of questions. She expressed her concerns with her language, including asking attendees to identify alternatives for homeless people to sleep and shower on the beach.
“That’s not the argument we’ve heard, which is great,” Tomalin said. “There is a world of difference between working to identify resources to help homeless neighbors and mitigating the impact that homeless neighbors may have on residents and beach recreation. there is.”
Planning Committee Chairman Joshua Schulman said the questions were “to deepen discussion and elicit input, but some of us here were interested in addressing the perception of the issue.” I don’t think so.”
Committee members and stakeholders identified potential ways to assist the homeless population. PCSO Capt. Greg Danzig pointed out that PSTA’s 175 buses are also billboards. He said local nonprofits can promote the myriad services they provide.
Dr. Monica Alesnik, CEO of the Homeless Leadership Alliance (HLA), agreed excitedly. He said the organization has a QR code for him that, when scanned with a cell phone, will direct you to a resource guide.
Alesnik said bus drivers could also carry and provide pamphlets. She also suggested that some drivers attend HLA’s trauma-informed care training. Schulman said drivers have undergone safety training and may receive additional courses.
Flowers said both proposals were “really good proposals.” Schulman concluded the meeting by asking homeless advocates to contact PSTA regarding route issues.
“Oftentimes we are not aware of other things going on that can impact the community,” he added. “Then we will try to be as accommodating as possible. In some cases, we may not have found the best solution yet.”