The appearance of a â€œtent cityâ€ in St. Petersburg, Fla., has brought homelessness to center stage, according to a series of articles in the St. Petersburg Times. Unlike such cities as Seattle and Ventura, Calif., which have seasonal or permanent tent cities for the homeless, St. Petersburg is grappling with how to handle its first â€œtent situation,â€ the Times reported. The issue emerged in December when church groups distributed tents to homeless people. Tent dwellers first clustered under a highway overpass and then, thanks to the efforts of a local minister, relocated to a lot owned by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Although the number of homeless people has not increased, the tent cityâ€™s visible manifestation of homelessness has led the city and Pinellas County to declare St. Petersburgâ€™s homeless situation a â€œcrisis,â€ the Times reported.
Citing code violations, St. Petersburg officials have set a Jan. 12 deadline to evict the campâ€™s 140-plus inhabitants. But social workers have also been dispatched to help camp residents access rental vouchers, disability assistance, or bus tickets if they can be reunited with family or friends elsewhere. Additionally, the city is seeking temporary sites to house the residents as well as a building to use as a permanent homeless shelter, given the current shortage of shelter beds. One city council member is leading a call for shelters that would allow people to stay long enough to save money toward their own apartments. According to another council member, the controversy surrounding the tent city has generated a positive outcome in the form of city resolve to address the needs of the homeless.Â