Homeless advocate protests treatment by city

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An advocate for the homeless stood on Kennedy Boulevard holding a noose for hours Monday to draw attention to his cause.

Adolphus Parker, the founder of the Homeless Helping Homeless charity in Tampa, also held a sign that read: "I'm willing to be lynched by the city of Tampa for helping the homeless, but my blood will be on your hands, because you good people did nothing to stop them."

Parker said his message was in response to Tampa Code Enforcement shutting down two of his three shelters in a month span.

"The only way you're going to shut me down is to completely destroy me, or we're going to work together," said Parker. "I'm willing to bring the rope and hand it to them myself personally, as they try to destroy me."

Parker said he feels he is being attacked by the city for filing a lawsuit against its panhandling ban in downtown Tampa. While the city has since overturned the policy banning soliciting on the streets, the lawsuit is still ongoing.

City officials said closing down the shelters is not a retaliation, but rather a safety issue for its residents.

"If these buildings catch on fire or they collapse, people could die. That's my job, is to keep folks out of these types of buildings," said Sal Ruggiero, manager of Tampa Neighborhood Enhancement, formerly code enforcement.

Between August and September, the Homeless Helping Homeless facilities on East Floribraska Avenue and East Oak Avenue were both deemed unfit for human habitation. Code enforcement officials said the living conditions were some of the worst they've seen.

"It's pretty bad, I mean, no running water, electrical is to the verge of where it could cause a fire, ceilings collapsing, rodents inside the walls," said Ruggiero.

Officials were initially called to the Floribraska Avenue location, after getting a tip that a man in a wheelchair was living in a U-Haul truck on the property. The resident was no longer living there when they arrived, but officials found enough code violations during their search that all of the residents were ordered to vacate in four days. While searching the property, officials were informed of the other facility at Oak Avenue.

"I've got to admit, there's some work that needs to be done," said Parker, "but we just don't have the funds. The funds that are coming in, they're just to maintain."

Parker said he has not been able to file for government funding for the charity, because it would require submitting an audit as well. The audit, Parker said, would cost more than $5,000.

"I know that if we get help from the community, we can make a difference," said Parker.

He is working to raise donations in order to put a down payment on a new home for the homeless. Parker is collecting donations through the Homeless Helping Homeless website: http://www.homelesshhh.com

The displaced residents are currently living in tents in the backyard of the Oak Avenue facility. Parker put up a fence and brought in a Porta Potty on Monday so the men will have a place to use the bathroom.
City officials said it's unclear if having more than a dozen people living in the backyard of Parker's property is a violation. They fear it will lead to nuisance complaints and potentially odor concerns if the homeless don't have places to shower or enough bathrooms available. Officials are looking into the issue.