Tampa police & downtown businesses chip in to provide free shelter for the homeless

  • Tampa Police Dept. Chief Jane Castor announces "Operation Gimme Shelter"

It ain't easy being homeless, especially in Tampa, where the City Council passed and Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed several new ordinances earlier this year banning panhandling in most parts of the city. It also prohibited sleeping in public spaces. People who violate the ordinance are given three warnings, and then are given the option by the police of going to a shelter or to jail.

"It doesn't take a social scientist to see that we have a homeless problem in the downtown area," Chief Jane Castor told a group of reporters a news conference at TPD headquarters on Wednesday morning. But the chief said that it truly isn't the desire of the police to criminalize the homeless, so recent discussions with other local agencies in town have led to a new program to make sure the homeless have a place to sleep, especially in cold nights like tonight.

Hence "Operation Gimme Shelter." The plan is to challenge downtown businesses and individuals to donate money to the Salvation Army to help the homeless have a place to stay during this holiday season.

The Tampa Police Department started the operation off with a $2,000 donation to a special fund within the Salvation Army specifically designated to provide shelter for the homeless. The Tampa Downtown Partnership is also contributing $1,000, and are calling on other businesses in the downtown core to contribute as well.

Currently a homeless person can stay up to five nights at the Army's facility on Florida Avenue for free. There is a $10 nightly charge after that. But Salvation Army Major James Hall said his board has been looking at that policy and realized that the fee may be contributing to the excessive panhandling downtown. "But there are costs involved in housing people," he says. "So this donation and cooperation by the chief has just been fabulous because it helps offset our desire to try to help out the situation." He said the average stay is eight nights for a homeless man or woman in Tampa.

Christine Burdick with the Tampa Downtown Partnership said that she frequently hears complaints from downtown businesses about the homeless, with the charge being that "somebody else "needs to do something about the situation. Now she says they can.

"Our donation is a challenge and inspiration" Burdick added.

With tonight expected to be one of the coldest nights of the year, Hillsborough County officials have announced that they will open four of their shelters, two located in Tampa, one in Brandon and one in Town N' Country.

For citizens who want to help out, they can check out the Tampa Salvation Army website, or mail a check to PO Box 2839, Tampa, Fl 33601. They are advised to put Operation Gimme Shelter in the memo line.
Credit card donations can also be made via phone 813-228-761

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