City Commission Refocuses on Crimes by Homeless People

The frustrations of an elderly woman who feels confined to her house by neighborhood crime has sparked new attention to homeless people by city officials.

A discussion at Monday’s Lakeland City Commission meeting was sparked by a plea for help two weeks earlier from resident Joe DiCesare, who said his 84-year-old aunt feels trapped in her home a block from Talbot House, a ministry that serves homeless men and women.

Updated at 4:55 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2015, to include a link to the WFLA report.

Talbot House and other nearby social service agencies have drawn scores of homeless people to several blocks north of downtown near U.S. 98 and North Kentucky Avenue. DiCesare was particularly concerned about the people who camp on a vacant lot across from the house on Kentucky Avenue that was bought by family members 47 years ago, when he said the area was “a nice middle-class neighborhood.”

DiCesare told commissioners that his aunt, who was a nun for 30 years, can look out her window and see prostitution, open container violations and “unauthorized bathrooms.” There have been break-ins and beer bottles thrown through her window, he said.

“We 100 percent want to help the homeless but don’t want to penalize the residents,” he said.

Talbot House executive director Tony Fusaro was quoted in The Ledger saying his agency welcomes help and the problem doesn’t come from people using his facility. “If (people are) on our campus, they follow our rules, but if they’re across the street on city property, we don’t have any control of them.” If anything, the location of social service agencies in the Midtown district has lessened the impact of homelessness on downtown businesses, he said.

The upshot of the City Commission discussion: City Manager Doug Thomas and his staff have been asked to explore more “aggressive” strategies, including increasing police presence.

You can read more about the City Commission discussion in The Ledger or a report on the issue by WFLA.