St. Pete Homeless and City set for a showdown

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Those St. Pete homeless advocates are at it again!

Since Sunday evening, Rev. Bruce Wright and Eric Rubin have gathered with other activists and segments of the homeless population protesting St. Pete’s treatment of street people. By setting up camp — literally — outside the Mahaffrey Theater, the activists had hoped to bring national attention to the city’s homeless plight during the CNN/YouTube debates. (The irony being the last time St. Pete’s homeless made national attention, YouTube was also involved.)

Of course, that sort of thing doesn’t play well with Mayor Rick Baker, so city officials confronted the group yesterday afternoon, asking them to leave the Mahaffrey property. The activists are also holding a hunger strike, which may have accounted for some irritable, raised voices when this little powwow occurred. Eventually, the activists agreed to leave their patch of grass in front of the Mahaffrey.

They’re currently across the street.

Anybody who has followed the events of these homeless advocates for the past few years probably could have seen this coming. Wright has a penchant for high-profile confrontations. But I don’t think this protest can be chalked up to a few angry activists looking for media attention. If anything, it’s the city that has raised its rhetoric in recent weeks.

There was Councilman Bill Foster’s comment to a Times reporter: “Those who don't want to go to the tent city because they are afraid of the system, we will not tolerate them. The red carpet is gone.” There was the city’s refusal to sign an agreement penned by Pinellas Hope’s organizers. And, as I posted earlier, there’s been an increase in passive-aggressive tactics to rid city property of vagrants.

City officials seem to be the ones eager for a confrontation. And after Dec. 1 — when Pinellas Hope tent city opens — there will be one.

It’s your ball, Mayor.

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