St. Petersburg has a growing homeless problem, consultant says - FOX 13 News

St. Petersburg has a growing homeless problem, consultant says

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

The same consultant who previously advised the city of St. Petersburg about street-level homelessness issues has some new advice.

"The new individuals really need to be engaged in order to make sure folks are going back home and not setting up new residencies," Dr. Robert Marbut told FOX 13 News.

Marbut was referring to the influx of homeless people showing up across the South, as the North endures one of cruelest winters on record.

Mayor Rick Kriseman recently retained Marbut's services, and the consultant spent the past couple of days driving around the city.

"The problem is not that the (street homeless) numbers have gone up super dramatically compared to what they were four years ago," Marbut concluded. "The problem is the trend line is not good, and the trend is actually quite bad."

Several years ago, the city had a significant homeless population, and at one point, dozens of them set up "tent cities" near downtown. The police displaced the tent cities a couple of times, then created a crisis situation by slashing some of the occupied tents, rather than dragging people out of them.

That incident motivated a more comprehensive approach to addressing the root causes of homelessness.

Today, there are temporary and longer-term shelters, and a more efficient coordination of social services. Marbut thinks those strategies are still appropriate, however.

"As you become successful, often you become complacent at the same time, so you have to be very vigilant on remembering how you got there, how you got that success," he said.

Marbut will return to St. Petersburg to analyze local data before giving a written report by the end of April.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin met with Marbut Monday and initially downplayed his return.

"It's just stewardship of the city, no particular crisis or concern, really just being pro-active," Tomalin said.

Pressed further about the homeless population increases that Marbut observed, Tomalin conceded "The city's studying it right now. It's one of the reasons we brought him in, to kind of check in and understand the trend."

The deputy mayor said some additional needs are already being identified, such as 24-hour a day access to services for people in immediate need of substance abuse problems.

Marbut thinks the city needs to address the seasonal influx within two or three weeks. In his opinion, "These individuals need to get engaged very actively and soon in order to prevent sort of big bulge or surge in the numbers."

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