Tarpon Springs takes its homeless to St. Petersburg.
Leslie Curran on Thursday, May 13th, 2010 in a city council meeting
City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran says Tarpon Springs police drop homeless in St. Petersburg
The nickname for it is "Greyhound therapy." A police officer comes across a homeless person and gives him a one-way bus ticket out of town to a faraway locale.
It's also dubbed "homeless dumping," where officials from one city drive homeless people to another city, drop them off and leave. One city's solution becomes another city's problem, handled in the most impolitic way.
Does it happen? Or is it the stuff of urban legend? No one can say for sure, partly because no jurisdiction would ever admit to sticking another place with its homeless problem. Which makes what City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said at a May 13 council meeting so extraordinary.
Curran implicated Tarpon Springs police Officer Jose Yourgules, and unnamed others, in passing the buck.
"When he comes upon any homeless individual in Tarpon Springs who needs assistance, he brings them to St. Petersburg," she said. "They send them all to St. Petersburg."
Yourgules made this confession at the May 7 Homeless Leadership Network meeting, Curran said.
"I didn't find it amusing," Curran said. "I don't think it's funny that every other city should depend on St. Petersburg to provide social services for everyone in the county."
That does seem unfair, so, really, why does Yourgules do it?
Well, not so fast, Yourgules said.
"We don't do that," he said.
For one, Tarpon Springs doesn't have a big homeless problem. He said the town has about 40 homeless people. Total. As the Police Department's homeless outreach officer, he does come across people who might need help.
Does he bring people to St. Petersburg and drop them off at places like St. Vincent de Paul?
"No, that's the worst thing you could do," Yourgules said. "You're not helping them if you do that."
Instead, he said, he calls around to shelters in Pinellas County, checking which ones have open beds.
He said that since March 15, he has placed 10 people in shelters. He took four to Pinellas Park, which has two shelters, Pinellas Hope and Touched by an Angel. He took five to Clearwater, which has two shelters, Homeless Emergency Project Inc. and Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project.
He has taken only one person to St. Petersburg, to A Turning Point, an alcohol rehabilitation center.
We checked it out.
Pinellas Hope's facility manager, Angelia Mosley, confirmed that Yourgules brings homeless people to the Pinellas Park shelter.
Jeffrey Polhill, president of the Touched by an Angel, said he knows who Yourgules is, but said the shelter doesn't track officers in its records. Neither does Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project, said Larry Passaro, a case manager there.
"I do know that Tarpon Springs police bring people to our shelter," Passaro said.
Katrina Tucker, program manager for A Turning Point, confirmed that Yourgules had brought only one person to the facility since March 15.
Did Yourgules say what Curran said he said? The meetings aren't recorded, so it's unclear.
The minutes of the meeting are compiled from typewritten notes of a staffer. They summarize, briefly, that Curran asked Yourgules where he sent people for services and he said ''St. Petersburg."
Sarah Snyder, executive director of Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, is responsible for the minutes. She said Yourgules meant that as a joke.
"We told him afterward that there are things you don't joke about," Snyder said.
But City Council member Herb Polson, who attended the meeting, said Yourgules wasn't joking.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch attended the meeting, but doesn't remember Yourgules speaking. He did find it hard to believe that Yourgules would have said something like that.
"I don't remember any statement about homeless people from north county being brought to St. Petersburg," Welch said.
Another attendee, former St. Petersburg City Council member Jamie Bennett, said Yourgules did in fact say that.
"I think he just misspoke," Bennett said. "He's brand new. That was his first meeting. I don't think he meant it."
Yourgules said that what he said was misunderstood, but he definitely hadn't been joking. He said Snyder didn't tell him that there are some things you don't joke about.
"What I was trying to say is that up north, there are no services," Yourgules said. "We take them to where the shelters are."
And that's not St. Petersburg, he said.
"Clearwater and Pinellas Park provide more services that we use," he said. "(Curran's) just upset. They are the biggest city, and it has the highest population of the homeless. But we don't bring people there and leave them. That would be unethical."
Curran said she believed him, now. "All I was reporting is what he said at the time," Curran said. "Nothing on him, but that's just what he said."
The Truth-O-Meter isn't interested in what Yourgules said. That's a good thing, too, considering that there's no recording of the meeting, only vague minutes reflecting what was said.
But no one is disputing what Yourgules claims now and what his records show. Four shelters confirmed his records. He takes the majority of the homeless people he finds to shelters, which mostly aren't in St. Petersburg.
What we're assessing is Curran's claim that Tarpon Springs takes all of its homeless to St. Petersburg. And we find no evidence to substantiate her blanket statement. We rate her statement False.