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At the table: Homelessness in St. Pete

Mark Parker



Angelo was one of the few homeless people at Williams Park in January willing to talk publicly about his situation. SPC's Downtown Center sits in the background. Photo by Mark Parker.

Where are we going, and how will we get there? As a community we’re constantly seeking the optimal balance between the needs we have and the needs we serve. And through discussion, we arrive at solutions. The At the Table series is for sharing our intentions, ideas and experiences to help us align and work better – together.

Part One in a series

St. Petersburg’s homeless population exists outside the city’s dark recesses; they occupy the same downtown and waterfront parks as any other residents and visitors.

A Homeless Leadership Alliance analysis of survey data from 2018-2022 showed that St. Petersburg was responsible for 46.3 % of Pinellas County’s homeless. While the city’s total decreased by 44 people since 2020, its percentage of the county’s population increased by 4.8% What can local officials do to help a seemingly growing problem?

While some preferred to talk off the record, a few unsheltered citizens at Williams Park offered their thoughts on mitigating the problem and its causes. Those willing to speak publicly only provided a first name, including Ray, who has cancer.

“A lot of us out here get checks,” said Ray. “There’s nowhere to rent, and what few places there are, they’re full, and people won’t move. I wouldn’t either.”

Ray said he receives $914 monthly in Social Security disability benefits. He wants the city to build more affordable housing capped at lower percentages of the area’s median income, something dishwashers at the area’s restaurants could afford.

He also noted that many people living on the streets had a place to call home before the recent construction boom.

Former residents – who Ray said have money – cannot find or afford another place to live once old apartment complexes make way for luxury condominiums. Rents have increased by around 30% over the last two years, and many landlords require tenants to earn three times the monthly payment.

“The homeless population is growing because they’re closing places,” he added. “You have a lot that there’s nothing wrong with them – they’re not alcoholics, they’re not drug addicts – they just lost their place to live or can’t afford to get a place.”

Matt and Angelo later echoed that sentiment. While they all agreed that many homeless people battle addictions, they believe that is just one small aspect of ending up on the street.

A Homeless Leadership Alliance graphic showing reported reasons for homelessness in Pinellas County. Screengrab.

What would help?

Ray said he was unfamiliar with the Police Assisting the Homeless (PATH) unit and Community Action and Life Liaison team (CALL). Those two programs, offered in partnership with the St. Petersburg Police Department, are meant to change how local officials respond to homeless issues.

He relayed that a housing waiting list program has helped people get off the street but said the process takes over two years.

“If there was some way they could break it down to where it wasn’t so long, or if they could buy some of the places before they (property owners) sell them to whoever wants to make a condo out of it … that would help,” Ray added.

Matt said he lost his job during the Great Recession and started to get back on his feet before the recent price increases took hold. He credited organizations like the local Health Department, Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul CARES for providing food, clothing and hygiene products to the unsheltered.

However, he said a seemingly simple solution is desperately lacking – a place to take showers. Matt sounded wistful as he recalled his last apartment and the little things people take for granted, like a clean bathroom, and socks.

“Sometimes it seems almost futile to even try to start again,” said Matt. “Even if I got a job and all that stuff, where would I live? I can’t afford these rents.”

Angelo said he was close to securing a home in Clearwater when his boss fired him for being homeless about three months ago. He also appreciated the efforts of local shelters but said those facilities’ cleanliness and environment are an issue.

He suggested that shelter officials increase screening efforts and split facilities into groups according to those who are sober. Angelo relayed that many homeless people prefer to sleep outside rather than deal with uncleanliness and behavioral issues common at shelters.

Homeless people occupy benches along St. Petersburg’s South Straub Park amid holiday events and decorations.

The middle class

Both Matt and Angelo strongly advocated for initiatives to boost the middle class. In a sense, they believe that the rising tide would help to lift the unsheltered boats.

Matt noted that if people with jobs struggle to live in St. Petersburg, that leaves little hope for the homeless to overcome their circumstances. He wants to see an increase in workforce housing alongside more affordable units and for local officials to build those developments throughout the city.

“If you work on the middle class, give them housing, and then the veterans … you lift them up, we’ll see it and we’ll go for it,” said Angelo of government programs. “It’s like ‘follow the leader,’ and it opens everything up anyways.”

He said many homeless people, particularly the veterans, dislike and distrust the government. Many are promised programs and solutions, added Angelo, yet find an endless amount of paperwork and waiting lists.

He added that many homeless veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and making it to appointments at certain times is a significant challenge for anyone living on the street.

Angelo also noted that many homeless people were once middle-class teenagers that ran away from home due to conflicts with their parents. He suggested providing informal counselors who can build the trust of troubled youth at recreation centers before offering critical advice.

“It’s not something that happens overnight,” said Matt of becoming homeless. “By the time you realize it, it happened already.”

Next: City leaders talk homelessness, and their thoughts on solutions



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  1. Avatar

    Hugh J. Hazeltine

    January 18, 2023at4:52 pm

    Thank you for reporting on this issue. I travel all over the U.S. and take long walks in downtown areas and all cities have a homeless issue. I see homeless in Appleton, WI in the winter. All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity. We as a community need to consider all ideas to offer a path off of living in the streets. It is for our benefit and theirs.

  2. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    January 18, 2023at7:31 pm

    Boarded up places, vacant lots, city owned property should be used for tiny houses, efficiency apartments, shipping containers all can be used to create housing. The City and County officials could use these ideas if they really want to help those with income get off the street. An investment in people. Why fire someone because they are homeless??? How heartless???

  3. Avatar


    January 19, 2023at8:58 am

    Pay your own way or get left behind. Find a job. Stop living in a public space.stop pretending that someone without a house is entitled to the same benefits as a taxpayer.

    Yes. Ive been homeless.

    Youre not going to solve this problem *for* another person. Its time this society learns self responsibility.

  4. Avatar

    Tina Tatum

    January 19, 2023at9:23 am

    Reverse mortgages is why some are homeless. Public Storage scams rob too. A Housing Counselor would be a guide for temporary or permanent shelter.

  5. Avatar

    Cheryl W

    January 19, 2023at5:53 pm

    I am in the middle of the road with responses. I 100% believe in accountability and hard work. It gives people a purpose and dignity.
    I think village of some sort( whatever is cost efficient) for housing to be able to house the most people. First starting with families with children. What they need to put in is hard work to maintain where they live. Give children a safe and nurturing daycare with counseling and support. If the parents default on agreement the health services takes over to find a solution. Maybe give them 1 relapse to to get back up. After that next family gets an opportunity. No excuse zone. Give them all the resources to make it but life is a choice.

  6. Avatar

    Barbara Ness

    January 19, 2023at8:46 pm

    I appreciate Ray, Matt, and Angelo providing their valuable input. I don’t understand why the city doesn’t provide basic housing for homeless individuals. St. Pete is raking in serious bucks on the regular through gentrification and development while practically ignoring its people who are being pushed out onto the streets, let alone those who’ve called the streets and parks home for longer. If you don’t have enough money or influence, it seems you don’t matter. In today’s St. Petersburg mural, you’d simply be painted over.

  7. Avatar

    Jeanette R Bulatowicz

    January 20, 2023at7:30 am

    It could happen to anyone. A friend’s rent just went up $300 a month and a family member’s mortgage the same because of skyrocketing insurance costs.
    In an immediate practical way I share what I can when I see displaced, shoes, jackets. And talk to them a few minutes. They live in St Pete too

  8. Avatar

    Virginia McCann

    January 20, 2023at8:59 am

    I became homeless,( October 30th, 2001, ) after I left an abusive alcoholic in Leesburg. I was scared and afraid of being alone, to change,into a different way of life, outside of abusive relationships.

    A good Samaritan, helped me walk to the Salvation Army Shelter on 4th St. & 14th Ave.
    I stayed there, worked, the soup kitchen was a God-Send. I;too was receiving a Social Security Check. I couldn’t find an apartment to rent, unless I had ( deposit, and last month’s rent, AND 1st month’s rent. )

    While working, and able to maintain inside a solid motel room for 2 weeks at a time, until the rent money was exhausted until the next month.
    I slept on sidewalks, and worked for different Day-Labor Offices every morning for daily wages. I was determined to get off the streets, so I sought out Homeless Advocate Shelters;that helped with HUD Housing Rent Vouchers. I lived in & out of homeless shelters, until 2010.
    I can honestly say that, learning how to love, and value people; was a wonderful blessing for me. God will bring us to a journey that we never expect; that we think we are unable to walk through alone. I Did.
    The Positive Side of being homeless, was out there. It was my responsibility to find it and keep going, where God leads for me to go.
    One Day & Chapter At A Time. 🙏

  9. Avatar

    Tom Tito

    January 20, 2023at4:11 pm

    I have been a volunteer at Pinellas Hope. I don’t believe that they require a two year wait. Hope has provided a safe place to camp in a tent and small structures and apartments.

  10. Avatar

    Jim hanisko

    January 21, 2023at1:34 am

    There are plenty of shelters and places for homeless people to live I know that first hand but those places have rules like no drugs or can’t be under influence of alcohol and the homeless people don’t want to follow the rules if you actually talked to them you’ll find the majority choose to live on the streets because they don’t like being told what to do when they stay at the shelters and housing places which is unfortunately part of being a adult but blaming other people and expecting the government is easier and the homeless know that telling a hard luck story gets newspaper stories and people buy it because nowadays it seems like if you work hard and make money and can live a decent life it’s not because of that it’s because of some privilege myths. If you look into things actually there are many incentives that are available the problem is you actually have to try and it’s easier to get a sign with a hard luck story than work with so much information everyone has access to its surprises me the amount of people that don’t actually look these issues that is truly the only way to fix a problem is looking into it unobjectional there’s plenty of information that anyone can find the libraries have access to the internet for free

  11. Avatar

    Jim hanisko

    January 21, 2023at1:43 am

    I see only there benefit I don’t see me working to survive giving what little I have left to someone who isn’t trying have you ever asked a homeless person or someone on the street with a sign that I’ll pay you if you can help me with a medial job I have many times and never once was responded to
    The money homeless people can make with a sign on street corners would surprise you I know when I looked into it and spoke with them when they were honestly talking it was about the same as I make working

  12. Avatar

    Jim hanisko

    January 21, 2023at1:51 am

    Thank you for being honest about this most everyone has problems that turned life upside down but it’s what you decide to do after that makes you better but a lot easier to give up
    I know it personally also and it sucks but eventually it turns back around and it makes you more aware of how easy things can go bad unfortunately sometimes life lessons cost more than others

  13. Avatar

    Jim hanisko

    January 21, 2023at2:24 am

    Finally honest perspective of what people are able to do when they decide to

  14. Avatar

    Jim hanisko

    January 21, 2023at2:32 am

    That’s the problem is the majority of people don’t actually know the total issue from unobjectionable sides
    The truly sad thing is that the information is out there and easily accessible on phone or free at the library you can access computers
    Before making responses and criticisms people should look into the details very sad how with access to information people can still get emotionally involved in something before looking into it

  15. Avatar

    Mike D

    January 21, 2023at8:13 am

    I thank God every day for organizations like Boley that are located in St Petersburg.After many years of trying to survive homelessness and find a way out.It was with the help of Boley and their services I was able to find stability and focus on the causes of my situation.Thier housing has been a Godsend and I’m beginning to feel hope for my future.Never give up,never lose faith.

  16. Avatar


    January 21, 2023at9:46 am

    I have been homeless on and off since 911. Not due to external causes. ( Addictions ect.) But from mental and emotional problems. PTSD is the major cause, I can not have a structure over my head for long periods of time. Was trapped in a bomb blasted building for days. Sure as one heartless person commented “not my responsibility to help others” Do it yourself. Mark, do you think we choose or have control? Like paying more in taxes for failed programs like Pinellas hope?

  17. Avatar


    January 21, 2023at10:29 am

    I was homeless in the Pinellas area for about two years, but in reality I had a home with my parents in Manatee, I just chose to bounce around on the streets in the area where my drug dealers were all located. This doesn’t speak for the homeless majority but most of the people I knew on the street WERE addicts to either opiates, meth, “spice” or a combination of the 3, with a few Xanax chasers thrown in. The alcoholics hang out together in a similar way. I found there were a surprising amount of fellow homeless in a similar situation to myself…technically they didn’t have to be homeless, but it was preferable to exposing their families to their current condition and it’s easiest, at least when you have an addiction that has to be fed day-to-day, to stay where the supply and the people you know in the business are. The percentage of homeless in active addiction is higher than the chart given here implies; just not all of those people would necessarily list their drug problem as the actual cause of their homelessness (even though it very often is at the root, denial and refusal to take full responsibility for our lived are both things that limit a lot of us in our ability to move forward.) To be honest what helped me most when I was out there is food pantries and random everyday people who made a point to come out and help. There were a handful of different pairs of them, and they’d pop up wherever you were sleeping, in the early mornings usually (which was also helpful as it helped ensure you were up and awake before the owners of whatever building you were next to arrivesd) and theyd hand out lunch bags with enough food in them to give a person a reasonable level of nourishment for the day. A sandwich or two with a piece of fruit, some chips and a bottle of water may seem like nothing important, and like its just giving someone one fish amongst an ocean of other appetites which may go unfed, but for us waking up every day with nothing, being greeted with a bag of food made it so that for that one day, or at least that one morning, I didn’t have to worry about stealing any food or what kind of nutritional balance I could assemble from Dollar Tree food. God knows I had enough other things to worry about before the day was done. Making help appealing and accessible, by keeping it low-profile and meeting people where they’re at (whatever that means for you and them) is the best way to approach any kind of proposed solution for homelessness. Even the most well funded efforts are limited by their reach and availability.

  18. Avatar

    Linda DeHaan

    January 22, 2023at1:19 am

    My son is homeless and has a job but it doesn’t cover the basic necessities so he drains my account each month. I live on disability and in a hotel I rent by the week. Not all shelters will let you stay more than 2 months. They kick you out

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