We previously posted information regarding our efforts to police the homeless in Lakeland. Since that time, representatives from other jurisdictions have visited Lakeland to see how our community serves this population and their accompanying problems of substance abuse, mental health issues, and unemployment.
The St. Petersburg Times ran a story in yesterday's edition about how Lakeland treats homeless individuals in our town. The story paints a positive image of our community's efforts to meet the needs of the homeless, from service providers and faith-based organizations (like the Talbot House, Salvation Army, and Lighthouse Ministries) to the police officers who work the area. The story notes, however, that Lakeland received an influx of homeless from the St. Pete area following efforts in that town to solve their homeless problem by tearing down a tent city earlier this year. That claim is a fact.
We appreciate the positive recognition from The Times, but we need to be careful. From a police perspective, we do not mind taking care of those homeless individuals in our town and will continue to treat these people with dignity and respect. However, we do not want to become a mecca for homeless across the country because of our town's generosity. Such a situation will quickly become a burden on our already limited resources and service providers by manifesting itself as a higher crime rate and generating complaints of the homeless causing problems all over the city.
This illustrates the fine line we walk when dealing with a social problem of this magnitude. Kind hearts and good intentions can quickly be taken advantage of by others. A little generosity can become a situation too big for our community because others ship their problems to us. We need to at least be cognizant of this and work to ensure we do not become a dumping ground for other communities.
The heart of our community is big, but our resources are not endless.
-Asst Chief Bill LePere