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1 Way or Another, Homeless Headed to Jail, Says Fla. Mayor; Public Defender Vows $50/Hour Fight

Posted Dec 8, 2010 2:54 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A new homeless shelter expected to open in a month on Florida's west coast will arguably offer those down on their luck something of a Hobson's Choice.

If they are found sleeping on the sidewalk, they can be arrested and locked up in a cell. Or they can opt to go to the homeless shelter, which happens to be located at the Pinellas County jail complex, and sleep on a cot in a section with access to social services, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

The shelter concept is intended to save on legal system and jail costs—the latter alone rack up an average $126 per inmate per day—by diverting homeless individuals arrested on minor charges like trespassing, officials tell the newspaper. It also is expected to offer some homeless individuals who haven't committed a crime a safe, warm place to sleep.

Because it is being established in an already-built, vacant jail annex, the shelter will cost very little and could require only $25 per inidividual per day to operate, even with the extra social services to be provided to its guests.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster tells the Times he expects to be able to enforce the city's ordinance against sleeping on sidewalks once the shelter offers an appropriate alternative.

However, Bob Dillinger, who serves as Pinellas public defender, says his office will represent anyone accused of sleeping on a public sidewalk and charge the county $50 an hour to do so.

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