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Still Struggling, 5: Meet Ofc. Rich Linkiewicz

September 24, 2010

I just spoke to St. Petersburg PD Officer Rich Linkiewicz, who is–together with his partner Ofc. Ryan Laxton–a full-time St. Pete PD outreach officer to the homeless. He and Ofc. Laxton are responsible for getting homeless people into the various rehab programs and shelters throughout the city and the greater Pinellas County. And he really helped me to understand what we’re dealing with here.

According to Ofc. Linkiewicz, all of the various shelters in the city are typically filled to capacity–however, he can always find a spot for someone within a week of that person contacting him and telling him that he or she would like to stay at a shelter–and usually he can find a bed for them that day. The main reason why so many homeless choose not to go to a shelter is that all the shelters require residents not to use drugs or alcohol. So those homeless who do not have a problem with drugs or alcohol should never have a problem finding space in a shelter, according to Ofc. Linkiewicz, neither should those who are committed to stopping using drugs and alcohol–though if they get caught using, they’ll be thrown out. And all the shelters offer all kinds of rehab services as well as social work services–some even offer job training and job placement.

So in his opinion, there are two issues regarding St. Peter’s allowing the homeless to seek shelter on our front stoop:

The first is that allowing them to do so further enables their problems with drugs or alcohol. So long as they can find shelter without stopping their use of this stuff, they will, in his opinion, keep using and avoid any kind of rehab program. (He cited how the city and St. Vincent de Paul stopped allowing homeless to camp out in front of that facility recently, and as soon as they did so, Ofc. Linkiewicz heard from over 70 people expressing their desire to quit using so they could enter a shelter.)

The second issue is that when it is known that a place like our front stoop (or previously, the area out front of St. Vincent de Paul) offers shelter without any kind of requirements regarding drug or alcohol use, such a place will become a magnet for all those who use drugs and alcohol but would also like shelter from the elements. That will lead to a high concentration of folks who are not being monitored. And that in turn will lead to violence. During my conversation with him, Ofc. Linkiewicz said, “I guarantee you” a bunch of times. In particular he guaranteed me that the numbers of folks camped out on our steps would grow. Currently, when it rains, about 20 or so camp out there now. Ofc. Linkiewicz “guarantees” that number will get up to around 50 over the next few months if we do nothing. (Before the city and St. Vincent de Paul changed things, there were over 100 sleeping out front of there each night.) Ofc. Linkiewicz also guaranteed me that our stoop would eventually play regular host to violent incidents–fights for sure, maybe an attempted rape, possibly a murder. (He said that out front of St. Vincent de Paul, the police were called to respond to disturbances there at least 4 times a night and that there were 3 murders there in the last few years before it was made off-limits.)

So there you go. That’s the view of one policeman whose job is to help homeless people get into shelters and rehab programs. And he also indicated that he’d love to team with us to help these folks get into those places. I’ve got his cell phone number and if any of us were to come across someone wishing to get into a shelter, we could call Ofc. Linkiewicz and he could find that person a bed.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. G P permalink
    September 24, 2010 4:00 pm

    The crux of the issue is being able to “walk the talk” and also ensuring the safety of others. Should a parish with a downtown presence turn its back on those who are in need? Absolutely not. But should it do so at the risk and peril to others, including those whom it is trying to help? No. Officer Linkiewicz has first hand expert knowledge about the lifestyles and habits of the homeless, and his comments should be taken seriously. And it’s NOT just about becoming a “society of lawyers” as mentioned earlier. Fall is here, dusk and evening are upon us earlier. What are you going to say the first time someone… a parishioner… one of the staff staying late… choristers or other members… comes out of church or an office building and is attacked by someone wielding a bottle? St. Peters parishioners are very giving of their time and talents. They know how to put their “money where their cross is” to paraphrase. If the goal is truly to support the homeless, both short term and long term, there are many groups and agencies in the area previously mentioned that would more than welcome the additional support. I would be in favor of keeping (and enforcing) no tresspassing signs…. and also creating and supporting an outreach group to help those who want to help themselves by getting to these other shelters.

  2. Betsy Adams permalink
    September 25, 2010 5:29 pm

    Hmmm…. I wonder what ever happened to those 70 who were seeking a shelter? Where are they now?
    I really do understand the fear factor and I think that its compounded by the visibility of homeless folks around the cathedral. I was interested in the officer’s numbers for disturbances, murders, etc at St Vincent de Paul. What percentage of the total number of crimes in St. Petersburg is directly attributable to homeless folks? These statements make it sound as though homeless folks are the source of most of the crime in the city. I would be surprised if that’s true.

    I think that there are perhaps more reasons than alcohol and drug abuse why people don’t seek a shelter. There are folks with children who don’t want the authorities to know they’re homeless. There are couples who want to stay together and few if any shelters allow that. Some folks feel safer on the street than in a shelter. Some are mentally ill and not able to function in a shelter setting.. I recognize that there is a great deal of substance abuse, but do question painting all who don’t seek shelter with that broad brush.

    I think that this will always be an issue for St. Peters as long as we are located between City Hall and Williams Park. Maybe putting up No Trespassing signs will make us feel better, but they really won’t accomplish anything. People will still congregate on the sidewalks around the church, just not maybe on the steps on a rainy night. The message, whether intentional or not, has to be, “You are not welcome here. There is no sanctuary” And that is hurtful to others.

    I certainly agree with Sheree that we need to talk with people and not about them. How about a street discussion where the church lays out its concerns re: drug abuse, fear, crime, liability and listens to the response? How about asking for a few street folks to help clean up in the morning? How about sponsoring some AA/NA meetings? I’m sure that any of these things could be facilitated through CO! and its connections. Just a few thoughts.

    And for some background, I am a neonatal nurse whose area of expertise is drug withdrawal babies, so believe me, I work with all sorts and conditions of humankind.. even some of the folks I’ve seen around St. Peters.


  1. Lord, Save Us (from your followers) « Cathedral Crossings
  2. Meet Ofc. Rich Linkiewicz, contd « Cathedral Crossings
  3. Still Struggling 7: The Problem of Reputation « Cathedral Crossings

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