Transient Survey Stirrs Emotions On Both Sides

By: Courtney Hayes
By: Courtney Hayes

Almost 300 business ³
³ owners and homeowners in ³
³ Downtown panama City have ³
³ spoken. ³
³ In a survey, created ³
³ by the Downtown Improvement ³
³ Board, 87 percent said ³
³ they believe the Rescue ³
³ Mission contributes to ³
³ homeless, transient, vagrant ³
³ presence downtown. ³
And that's why some ³
say the shelter must be ³
³ moved. ³
³
³ "They follow me from the ³
³ parking lot to the store ³
³ panhandling. I have had to ³
³ call the police, because ³
³ customers don't want to come in if somebody's ³
³ hustling money for ³
³ cigarettes," Business owner George Fernandez says. ³
³ SINCE HE'S OWNED SWEET ³
³ EXPECTATIONS ON HARRISON ³
AVENUE GEORGE FERNANDEZ HAS ³
ALWAYS HAD A PROBLEM WITH ³
³ TRANSIENTS WHO LOITER ³
³ OUTSIDE OF HIS BUSINESS. ³
³ FERNANDEZ BLAMES THE ³
³ RESCUE MISSION, AND LIKE 64 ³
³ PERCENT SURVEYED HE BELIEVES ³
³ MOVING IT WOULD MAKE THINGS ³
³ BETTER. ³
³ "If the rescue mission is ³
³ moved anyone that comes to town will seek out the mission. That might increase the probability that they won't come back here, to downtown," Fernandez says. ³
³ ³
³ 85 PERCENT OF THOSE ³
³ SURVEYED SAY TRANSIENTS CONTRIBUTE TO CRIME ³
³ DOWNTOWN, BUT THERE WAS ONLY ³
³ ABOUT 75 ARRESTS LAST YEAR ³
³ DEALING SPECIFICALLY WITH ³
³ TRANSIENTS. ³
³ AND TOP LAW ENFORCMENT ³
³ OFFICIALS SAY THE MISSION ³
³ ISN'T ONLY TO BLAME. ³
³ "Moving the Mission won't solve the problem. Transients come downtown for the Post Office, the Social Security Office, for the government buildings that are in downtown area. We can't move all of those buildings," Chief David Slusser of the Panama City Police Department says. ³
³
³ OFFICIALS WITH THE ³
³ RESCUE MISSION SAY MOST THE ³
³ TRANSIENTS ARE HARD WORKING ³
³ AND WANT TO GET HELP. ³
³ BUT FERNANDEZ SAYS IT'S ³
³ THOSE FEW SOUR APPLES THAT ³
³ ARE RUINING IT FOR EVERYONE ³
³ ELSE. ³
³ "They're not all bad people. there's a lot of ³
³ people that are just down on ³
³ their luck. They need help. ³
³ Some people want to help ³
³ themselves and some don't," Fernandez says. ³
³ ³
³ The Downtown Improvement ³
³ Board will take the results ³
³ of this survey to Panama ³
³ City Commissioners this ³
³ Tuesday, where they will ³
³ discuss possible solutions ³
³ to the transient problem.


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