According to Metropolitan Ministries, there are more than 25,000 homeless people living in the Tampa Bay area. And with jobs scarce and economic woes continuing, that number keeps growing.
As local governments grapple with their own ever-shrinking budgets, some are taking strong measures to put out no vacancy signs for their homeless populations. Panhandling bans, for example, are in effect in many Tampa Bay area communities, including Tampa and Pasco County.
While homeless shelters exist, many report they are operating at capacity. Metropolitan Ministries estimates more there are 1,500 beds for homeless in Hillsborough County. Even so, some 8,000 homeless go without shelter each night, the agency estimates.
In nearby Pinellas County, the problem has become daunting for some governments to handle. Trying to balance the rights of residents, the need for public safety and services for the homeless has led to what might be seen as a tipping point.
The city of Clearwater, for example, recently sealed off public restrooms in some parks, according to The Tampa Tribune. The measure was meant to entice homeless to move on to greener pastures. Even so, the city still faces a homeless problem.
Enter the latest proposal: a ban on sitting and laying down in some public places.
Although not yet set in stone, the ban proposal has raised some eyebrows.
Pasco and Pinellas county public defender Bob Dillinger is against the idea.
"Arresting the homeless is the most expensive way to address the problem and the least effective," the Tribune quoted him as saying.
In Sarasota, the City Commission decided in 2011 to remove benches at Five Points Park to discourage homeless sleeping in the park, and Residents at a commission meeting this week expressed concern about the problem shifting where folks are now lying down, sleeping and some even say camping outside of across the street from the park.
What do you think? Too much government intrusion or a good solution to a growing problem that other communities should follow? How would you address the homeless problem throughout the Bay area? Let us know in the comments section below.