Some downtown business owners in St. Petersburg are asking, 'Where did all the homeless people come from?'
- Business owners say they've seen more panhandling, public urination
- St. Pete officials believe it's the result of new ownership downtown
- The infamous 'cheese grater' building was purchased a few weeks back
Lately, many owners have been complaining about a noticeable increase in panhandling, public urination and overall harassment from more homeless people.
"Seems like they walk around the block," said barbershop owner Schott Mitchel. "Maybe the police will pull up into the park, and then they scatter.
"And then you'll see them walk around the block a few times," he said. "They don't know what to do, and then maybe they'll sit down in front of your business, which isn't good for business.”
City officials say the recent closing of the'Cheese Grater' building and its accompanying parking garage may have something to do with it.
Cliff Smith, St. Petersburg Veterans Social and Homeless Services Director, says, "It's been sold and fenced off, and so a lot of people we believe were living in the garage there (are) out on the street panhandling, just causing all kinds of issues, hurting our businesses."
Within hours of the complaints, city officials moved on the concerns by making police more visible in the area and reaching out to homeless advocates to encourage those displaced to take advantage of the shelters and other services provided to the homeless.
Smith emphasized that being homeless is not a crime in St. Petersburg, but panhandling, public defecation and drug use are, and won’t be tolerated.