homeless protest St. Pete, FL sweep: people before baseball FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 8 Feb 1998 10:46:34 -0800 (PST)

FWD 2/8/98 By Lynn Porter of The Tampa Tribune


       ST. PETERSBURG - City officials say they are not trying to get the
homeless out of the downtown area before baseball season.

       The homeless came to the home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Saturday
to protest what they said is a city-orchestrated effort to sweep them from
downtown before the opening day of the baseball team's inaugural season.

       Outside Tropicana Field, about 50 people carried signs that read
``Homelessness is not a crime'' and ``St. Pete, put basic human needs
before baseball!''

       The homeless - joined by teenagers, mothers and children - chanted
``Where's the saint in St. Petersburg?'' and ``People not Baseball.''

       Steve Kersker, an advocate for people with mental disabilities, said
city officials are hoping to turn St. Petersburg into a ``Disney World,''
cleansed of the poor, homeless and mentally ill.

       ``They think it will turn people off to have homeless people and
disabled people in the downtown area when they drive in for baseball,'' he

       The protest was the latest 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. Otherwise, the church will have to move. The Refuge
is appealing.

       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 has said officers are not
harassing the homeless.

       A Devil Rays official has said the team has nothing to do with a
push to remove poor and mentally ill from city streets - assuming there is
such a push.

       Jody Malsbury, who turned out Saturday to protest with her
3-year-old daughter, believes there is.

       ``The city of St. Petersburg is using the laws, manipulating the
laws, for the purposes of money and at the expense of the people that are
our most vulnerable - particularly the mentally ill,'' said Malsbury, 39, a
St. Petersburg resident and licensed clinical social worker.

       Another protest is planned March 31, opening day at Tropicana Field.


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