Around downtown St. Petersburg, there are "Power of Change" donation stations, which are repurposed parking meters that claim a donor's contribution will, "help provide for homeless families and individuals."
Nowhere on the stations is it mentioned that the money is actually going to the St. Petersburg Police Department's budget, nor is it clear that very little of the donations are actually going to the homeless community.
According to numbers sent to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay by SPPD on July 20, in FY22, zero dollars have gone to the homeless community from the donation stations.
Meanwhile, about $9,842 of donors' change has been stockpiled by the department, as of June.
In FY21, only $515.28 was spent on the homeless community, while the donation stations gained nearly $3,000 in revenue.
The police program that the money goes to—Police Assisting the Homeless (PATH)— receives the donations after they go into the police department's general fund.
"The PATH unit does not have its own budget as it is included in the Police Budget under Downtown Deployment," SPPD said in an email. "The funds that come from the Power of Change are deposited and monitored by our Police Fiscal Dept. The PATH Sgt. can use a purchasing card to buy items such as socks, underwear, backpacks, blankets, work boots, etc. Those receipts are turned into Fiscal, and the funds used to pay the card come from the Power of Change."
SPPD's numbers say that since 2019, just $1,716 has been spent on the homeless community out of about $11,497 in revenue raised.
In 2019, the Tampa Bay Times and other local media published articles explaining how PATH was helping the homeless in the area. According to SPPD's numbers, from May to September of that year, just $82.40 was spent on the homeless from the "power of change" donations, as the department had over $2,281 available to spend.
The PATH unit also gets bus tickets for people who want to get to a relative or friend who wants to care for them. But the money that goes to PATH from the "power of change" donations does not pay for those tickets.
"The bus tickets (called travel assistance) that our officers give out, are provided by our non-profit partners for specific cases," SPPD said. "These partners include agencies such as Daystar and the Homeless Leadership Alliance."
As SPPD hoards money that's supposed to go to the homeless, the suggested budget for the department in the upcoming fiscal year is over $131 million.
SPPD's numbers say that from January to March of 2022, the unit has made contact with 404 people, and referred 207 of them to help. And the unit has helped 29 people get bus tickets via the partner organizations, SPPD said.
But when asked follow-up questions about the lack of use of "power of change" funding, SPPD told CL, "We’ve been in budget discussions with other City departments to see where the funds could be shifted so they are best utilized for the homeless."
In a video from 2015, the city said that the stations would help people donate to the homeless, "instead of giving money to panhandlers," claiming that, "panhandling has a negative effect on our community, tourism and local businesses."
William Kilgore, an organizer with St. Pete Cop Watch (SPCW) first told CL the donation stations don't say that the money goes to the police, which led CL to inquire about how the funds are being spent.
Kilgore said that the Power of Change initiative, "has shamefully mislead residents and visitors into believing they’re helping the poor."
"Not only has the program snatched thousands of dollars from the hands of the homeless, but that money has been redirected to the police, who are wholly unqualified to administer these funds," Kilgore wrote on behalf of SPCW. "The SPPD routinely terrorizes, abuses and arrests scores of unhoused residents in the city every year, and are as much of an appropriate liaison to the homeless community as a wolf is to a flock of sheep."
He said that the city should immediately confiscate the outstanding donation balance from the police department and issue an apology to the homeless community.