Coffee with a cop discusses the homeless

Tampa+police+officers+at+The+Blind+Tiger+Cafe

Tampa police officers at The Blind Tiger Cafe

Giovanna Cano, Staff Writer

On the morning of Oct. 4, The Blind Tiger Cafe hosted a comfortable atmosphere for coffee lovers and the Tampa police. Ybor City Development Corporation hosted Coffee with a Cop, a public event where civilians have the chance to exchange a conversation with law enforcement without being in a crisis situation.

  Florida’s mental health programs were up for discussion at this Oct. meeting, including the Baker Act and the Marchman Act. These mental health services provide involuntary examinations for up to 72-hours for mental illness or substance abuse issues. However, soon into the meeting it became clear, the local homeless population was a real concern.

Tampa police officer Daniel McDonald, known for liaison work with the homeless, began the conversation by highlighting how Tampa Bay has almost 2,000 Baker Act cases a year. He explained that the cases have doubled in the past decade; most notably, cases involving minors. The greatest population affected by the mental health programs are the homeless, who regularly appear in these facilities. Officer McDonald pointed out an obvious reason for the increase is the shelter the program provides. Yet, this becomes an issue when “revolving door” cases emerge. People continuously become committed without any stable rehabilitation and the public is worried this system is not working.

Local Ybor businesses who participated in the event recognize these problems by witnessing the homeless population nearby. Unsettling stories like finding the homeless unresponsive, and lying on a curb, were common among locals who asked the police officers for answers to these troubling events. Still, as the conversation dealt with the serious topic regarding the safety of the homeless, concerns came forward demanding a permanent solution.

“They’re still people” said Officer McDonald, as he explained the aspects of Florida’s finances for homeless housing and that rehabilitation is the goal. According to the Florida Coalition for the Homeless, Florida has about 35,900 homeless people, making it the nation’s third largest state for the homeless population. As for Ybor City, the homeless are no strangers.During the conversation at Coffee with a Cop, many participants identified the local homeless by first name.

“Emily is back on the streets,” says an Ybor business owner as she recalls seeing a local homeless women who frequents the area. Officer Bob Barrett listed names, and participants recognized the familiar individuals. The group noted, “Emily takes the time to visit her mother, John sings where ever he goes and Billy hasn’t been heard from in a while.” There is also a homeless man who either enjoys to dress up as a pirate every day or believes he is one.

In 2011, three Hillsborough Community College students spent three days and two nights on Ybor City streets to experience being homeless for themselves. Their story, “Homeless in Ybor: A day in the life,” is on Hawkeyenews.net. As for the safety of the public and the homeless, The Tampa Police Department and the Ybor City Development Corporation advise everyone to “see something, say something,” and to call 1-855-FLA-SAFE or to file a report online at http://www.fdle.state.fl.us.