International Human Rights Day; Homeless rally at St. Pete City Hall

11:53 PM, Dec 10, 2010   |    comments
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St. Pete, FL - They march with a message: Homelessness is not a crime.

On International Human Rights Day, more than a hundred people hit the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, chanting "What do we want? Housing!" as they walked to City Hall. 

But the county's idea of housing the homeless in an old county jail is not good enough, says rally organizer Reverend Bruce Wright of The Refuge.  "We have grave concerns about that.  It sounds similar to Japanese internment camps that happened in WWII," said Wright.

Cherie Honkela of the Poor People's Ecomomic Human Rights Campaign flew down from Washington DC for this rally.  The reason she said, "[is because St Pete is] the number one most hostile place in the country toward homeless people."

Honkela says housing the homeless in an old detention center is disgusting.

"They deserve to be treated like human beings," said Wright.

Retired truck driver Frank McKinnis agrees.  He has lived on the streets of St. Petersburg for years.

"We don't need to be in a prison unit.  We need to be free because its our constitutional rights are being violated!"

Emotional, McKinnis steps back to take a moment.  He believes housing is his human right and wants county leaders to stop hurting him and start helping him.

"I don't think the mayor has that right, so what do I have to say to him?  Leave us alone!"

Not all leaders for the homeless are against turning the detention building into a shelter.  In fact, the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless sees it as an opportunity for the homeless to get some much needed services and possibly transition into more permanent housing.

Keep in mind, this is not a done deal.  The Pinellas County Commission will meet on December 14th to decide whether to move forward with this plan.

Erica Pitzi, 10 News Reporter

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