Pinellas News

Tarpon homeless population on rise, chief says

TARPON SPRINGS — A chart showed the number of homeless people in Pinellas County decreasing over the past seven years, but Tarpon Springs Police Chief Robert Kochen believes that’s not the case in this city.

“We believe that our homeless population is increasing,” he said last week while briefing city commissioners on the issue.

The graphic Kochen displayed during his presentation showed the number of homeless individuals decreasing throughout Pinellas County since 2007, dropping from 4,680 to 3,913. But citing information such as arrests, complaints from businesses and residents, and the observation of officers on the streets, Kochen said the same can’t be said for Tarpon Springs. Downtown, Craig Park, the Tarpon Springs Public Library//, on East Lemon Street, and the Sponge Docks are the largest problem areas, Kochen said.

To combat a multifaceted problem, which ranges in severity from public nuisance to being a serious danger, Kochen said, the city’s diverse approach continues to move in the right direction.

“You can’t arrest your way out of a homeless problem,” the chief said. “The problem of homelessness is way above any police agency’s ability to handle alone. If you don’t take a multidimensional approach you’re way less effective.”

Kochen explained that this involves the cooperation of multiple entities. The department’s Homeless Outreach Program helps connect struggling individuals with social service organizations and programs. Some of the most impactful partnerships are with groups like the Tarpon Springs-based Shepherd Center food charity, the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board and Pinellas Safe Harbor.

“This is a complex issue that involves partnerships with many different individuals,” said Michael Herrera, executive director of the Shepherd Center.

Social service organizations and other groups can help homeless people get to and work on the root cause of their plight, Kochen said, making rehabilitation much more probable.

Also making a positive impact has been the presence of Jose Yourgules, the department’s homeless outreach officer. Yourgules is primarily credited with 240 getting about 240 homeless people off the streets and into programs.

“This officer really has this innate ability to connect with homeless people,” Kochen said of Yourgules’ work.

Commissioner Townsend Tarapani asked if an additional homeless outreach officer is needed to better handle the problem,In response Kochen said a continued and heightened cooperation with the local business community would be even more helpful.

“I think we’re pretty good with what we have. What I would like to expand are the partnerships especially with the business community. They’ve really stepped up.”

Safford-Live Oak construction update

The orange cones and barricades at the intersection of Live Oak Street and Safford Avenue are sticking around for a couple more months.

Public Works Director Tom Funcheon, updating commissioners last week on the project’s progress, said a completion date of mid-January is as optimistic as it gets right now.

“The job’s turned into something that’s a little bit larger than we could have possibly anticipated,” he said.

The roadway’s reconstruction became necessary after an Aug. 17 sewer main rupture. The accident’s breadth and scope was not realized until crews began to dig down and investigate a sewer line that carries about 2.5 million gallons of raw sewage a day.

The city must replace the piping while navigating other buried utility lines, then re-cover and pave the area. Funcheon estimated the project’s cost at $1.2 million, a sum that is covered by the city’s sewer fund.

City Manager Mark LeCouris, though, said this unforeseen incident may cause a rate increase next year.

Funcheon said multiple issues converged to cause such a serious infrastructure failure, but the ages of affected pipes was not one of them. The ruptured pipes were installed from 1986-87, he said. “For a sewer system it’s like having a car with 35,000 miles on it. You don’t expect the motor to go.”

A primary factor into why the lines failed, he said, is that the type of pipe installed is designed for transporting drinking water, not more corrosive sewage.

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