Homeless protest set this weekend at stadium

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 8 Feb 1998 10:43:02 -0800 (PST)

FWD 2/6/98 http://www.tampatrib.com/news/frid1029.htm
By LYNN PORTER of The Tampa Tribune


       ST. PETERSBURG - Protesters will gather outside Tropicana Field on
Saturday to bring attention to what they say is a city-orchestrated effort
to sweep St. Petersburg of homeless and mentally ill people before opening
day of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' inaugural baseball season.

       The protest is the latest by advocates for those groups since city
officials last year declared The Refuge church a social service agency. Its
storefront location at 328 Ninth St. N. is not zoned as such.

       The ruling forces the church, which serves food to street people, to
get city approval to continue providing services, such as near-daily food
handouts to the poor - or move. The Refuge is appealing.

       ``I just don't think it's right to push people with disabilities,
homeless people, elderly people around,'' said Steve Kersker, an advocate
for people with mental disabilities. ``If somebody doesn't speak up and
protest, they'll just be pushed out of sight.''

       The picketing, slated to start at 10 a.m., follows a failed attempt
by the advocates in December to get the Devil Rays to contribute $455,000
to organizations that help the poor and mentally ill.

       The advocates withdrew that demand, but they still want Devil Rays
managing general partner Vince Naimoli to join in a news conference
denouncing the harassment they say is being directed against the poor in
the name of baseball. City officials say there is no harassment.

       Naimoli has declined through a spokesman - which prompted the
protest, a renewal of picketing that began last year at city hall following
the decision on The Refuge.

       ``The Devil Rays organization is not going to get involved in the
dispute between The Refuge and the city of St. Petersburg,'' said John
Higgins, the team's senior vice president.

       The Rays have nothing to do with a push to remove poor people from
city streets - assuming there is such a push, he said.

       ``I think the protest is misdirected. We've done nothing but do
favorable things toward the homeless.''

       Higgins pointed to the Rays' feeding of 400 homeless people at Al
Lang Stadium in December and Naimoli's helping the St. Vincent de Paul
Society raise money on behalf of the homeless.

       Robert Jeffrey, the city's manager of development review services,
has said his decision about The Refuge has nothing to do with baseball.

       Police spokeswoman Lilla Davis-Mays said police are not harassing
the homeless.

       ``We're doing what we've always done prior to baseball, which is
trying to keep our streets clean and safe.''

       Another protest is planned for the team's opening day on March 31.


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