The Journey Street Newspaper

Do You want to have something You wrote published? Get involved; become a contributor or a reporter. Get your articles, recipes, artwork , poetry, etc. published. Set an example for your community. Contact us at 817-902-7911 or contact by E-Mail at

Saturday, June 11, 2011

St. Pete cracking down on homeless

» 2 Comments | Post a Comment
Jail or shelter.
Those soon will be the sleeping options for homeless people in St. Petersburg.
City officials are banning sleeping, reclining or storing personal items on public sidewalks in their latest attempt to sweep the homeless out of downtown.
The city had been blocked previously because the ordinance authorizing the ban first required space to be available at local shelters.
But Mayor Bill Foster said those beds will become available by the middle of the month.
"If they choose sleeping on a street corner as a lifestyle, they'll need to pick a different community," he said.
The city long has sought to rid its public areas of the homeless, drawing national attention in January 2007 when police were recorded on video slashing the tents of homeless people. At the urging of downtown merchants and residents, the city continued adopting stricter laws in addition to offering homeless people a one-way bus ticket out of town.
The tactics drew a lawsuit from homeless advocates in 2009.
Jack McPherson, who has been on the streets for almost five years, said he would prefer a jail cell ahead of a shelter bed.
"It's not like we're robbing people, but OK, take me to jail," he said. "We're not hurting nothing. What we're doing is finding a place just to lay our head down; maybe we drink a little beer."
The extra shelter space is available, Foster said, because the county shelter Safe Harbor, which opened in January at 14400 49th St. N. in an old bus depot, is opening a courtyard.
Bob Gualtieri, chief deputy with Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, said it will add another 100 outside beds to the 370 inside.
Gualtieri said it is a more humane and economical option. "It costs $126 a day to house someone in the county jail; it costs $20 a day to house someone here," he said.
Foster said the goal is to provide a better option for the homeless, adding that they make downtown sidewalks more dangerous and impede visitors and business customers.
"We as a society can do better than a cardboard box," he said.
McPherson doubts enforcement will work.
"You're going to travel us way out there. We're going to come back. We'll be here tomorrow," he said. "We're just sleeping, leave us alone. This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Arrested for Feeding Homeless People

Jun 2011
On June 1, three members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested for sharing food with hungry people in a park in downtown Orlando.  Such news is almost incomprehensible.  People arrested for helping out people in need. Unfortunately, as shocking as this news is, it is not unfamiliar. Cities around the country have used laws to target and move homeless people out of downtown areas for decades.
But, now our cities have stooped even lower, so that we can’t even allow members of our communities to help out one another. What kind of a message does this send to our community members?  What about our children?  Do we want them to grow up learning that serving those in need is not only not worthwhile, but something to be punished?
The ordinance that these three people violated is one that requires groups sharing food with 25 or more people in certain downtown parks to obtain a permit to do so. And groups are only allowed two  such permits per covered park per year. Given that certain central locations and regularly scheduled meals at those locations tend to reach the most people (due to visibility and predictability), these restrictions make it more likely that people in need will not be able to access safe, nutritious food.
The ordinance has been tested in court and the 11th Circuit recently issued an opinion upholding the law – although the district court overturned the law.  Clearly, the City of Orlando is taking its cue from the court to recommence enforcement of the law, but to what end?
The penalties for violating this ordinance are 60 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both. In a time when budgets are strapped and human services are being cut, city resources should be going to helping homeless people move beyond homelessness, instead of incarcerating those who want to help.  Jail costs are extraordinarily high, especially in comparison to the cost of housing and shelter.  It does not make any fiscal or practical sense to use police, jail, and court resources to address this issue.
Putting aside the fiscal aspects of enforcement of this ordinance, it is clear our communities need to do some soul searching. We need to do better than this.  We need to show future generations that it is poverty, hunger, and homelessness that should not be tolerated, not the acts of compassion to address them.
For more information about the criminalization of homelessness, check out the report card we released today on housing rights in the United States.
-Tulin Ozdeger, Civil Rights Program Director
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon

Friday, June 3, 2011

Does cutting mental health care increase the prison population?

Posted at 05:20 PM ET, 06/02/2011
State-supported mental health care, like many social services, has been especially vulnerable in the recent rounds of budget cuts. Over the past two years, some $1.6 billion has been slashed from non-Medicaid state spending on mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But a growing number of law enforcement officials — along with mental health advocates — are voicing concerns that such cutbacks not only hurt mental health beneficiaries but also overburden the country’s prison system.
In Illinois, where mental health spending has dropped 15 percent since 2009, the Cook County sheriff may file a lawsuit against the state for allow the county jail to “essentially become a dumping ground for people with serious mental health programs,” reports a local ABC affiliate, WLS-TV. The details:
Sheriff Tom Dart says it has gotten so bad Cook County Jail is now the largest provider of mental health treatment in the state. … As much as 20 percent of the jail's population has been diagnosed with some type of mental illness. That's 1,300 to 1,400 people receiving psychiatric care while behind bars.

“What ends up happening is, there’s no safety net to catch them, so they end up committing crimes, getting swept up by the police and coming to jail,” said jail psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Howard.
The head of Illinois’ mental health department says that the state is trying to make do with limited resources — but acknowledges that it still can’t afford treatment programs such as community-based care that might be more effective, as WLS-TV points out.
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times has examined a public safety program in Nevada that’s also under threat because of mental health budget cuts. The effort pairs police officers in Reno with mental health counselors to reach out to the mentally ill, whether they’ve committed crime, are a threat to themselves, or could be in the future. “Already starved for services, troubled citizens sometimes tumble into homelessness and alcoholism and tussle violently with police, who are usually ill-equipped to help them,” the story explains.
In Nevada and Illinois, as in states across the country, mental health services will continue to be vulnerable to budget cuts. According to University of Chicago Professor Harold Pollack, states deliver many mental health and behavioral services outside of Medicaid and are thus freed from federal coverage requirements — as well as matching dollars — making these services a more tempting target for legislators committed to fiscal austerity.
Mental health advocates have long banged the drum about the connection between mental health and crime, noting especially strong links between recidivism and mental illness. In a recent report on the phenomenon, “Cost-Shifting to Criminal Justice,” NAMI notes that as much as a quarter of prisoners in the United States suffer from a serious mental illness, citing a 2006 Department of Justice study. The group adds that 50 percent of previously incarcerated individuals with serious mental illnesses end up returning to jail — at times because untreated mental illness has led them to violate parole, citing the Council of State Governments.
Such findings may undercut the economic rationale for cutting mental health benefits if states are simply shifting — or increasing — costs to the prison system in doing so. As I've reported previously, many states are also battling to contain prison costs as well as health services. So budget-conscious legislators may be especially willing to think twice if research continues to support this argument.
Suzy Khimm is a staff reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones.