Gulfport City Council got a crash course on the wide range of public opinion voiced when a homeless person becomes a fixture in town.
More than a dozen residents spoke to the council Tuesday night to air their grievance or concern for the plight of a man known to Gulfport citizens as “Charles,” – his name, The Gabber learned, is Charles Crudup – a visible presence seen around Clymer Park and sitting on a bus stop bench on Beach Blvd.
Gloria Eckhart, who identified herself as a former psychiatric social worker for the Veterans Administration, started, asking what had happened to Crudup.
“I want to know if someone has intervened; Charles is no longer there,” Eckhart said. “I would like to know if he is safe. Does he have shelter? I would hate to think that this man is running the streets with none of his belongings.”
In response, City Manager Jim O’Reilly said he’d convinced Crudup to let O’Reilly drive Crudup to a homeless shelter in Safe Harbor, but Crudup did not stay at Safe Harbor.
“I met with Charles on three separate occasions,” O’Reilly said. “We did transport him to the shelter; he chose to come back.”
He (Charles) is going to be around,” O’Reilly said. “We cannot put restrictions on him; we cannot criminalize his behavior.
O’Reilly said the city, with Crudup’s permission, gathered Crudup’s possessions, placed them on a pallet covered with shrink wrap and placed them in a fenced area adjacent to city property.
Several residents expressed frustration with what they claim is Crudup’s license to roam unfettered around Gulfport residential property.
Paula Parnell, a Beach Boulevard resident and self-described snowbird, said she returned to her Gulfport home in November to find Crudup on her property.
“When I returned last month, I found an unwelcome trespasser living in front of my house,” Parnell said. “I feel completely powerless and violated by a person who puts a shanty up in front of my house. Please, we need to do something to protect homeowners.”
Parnell did not mention whether or not she called the police.
Parnell alleged that since Crudup has been turned away from several homeless facilities in the past, he likely would continue to return to Gulfport.
“I don’t want to have that nightmare again; I don’t want to live that way again,” Parnell said.
Other city residents asked whether the city can exercise any vagrancy law to remove Crudup from the city.
“You said that you are taking it one step at a time,” said Suzy Zoll, of Windsor House in Gulfport. “You did take one step. Now it’s time to take the park bench out.”
Zoll asked if Gulfport could prosecute Crudup for vagrancy or loitering.
“Why does the city manager allow this to happen? Do you want the city to be like San Francisco, `Tent City?’” Zoll asked. “So, he can defecate and urinate on the street and in public – where does he go?”
O’Reilly said state and federal law covering transients such as Charles has changed from prior years.
“He (Charles) is going to be around,” O’Reilly said. “We cannot put restrictions on him; we cannot criminalize his behavior.”
Lisa Hunt, who lives across the street from the Gulfport Public Library, expressed concern that there may be other homeless activity in the library parking lot.
“I’ve seen a lot of goings on in the library,” Hunt said. “Having a young child, it’s a little scary. And there’s actually someone living in the library parking lot in his car for over a year now.”
Hunt said someone had come onto her property to ask to use an electrical outlet to charge a cellphone and suggested the city create a special fund to assist those in the area with mental issues.
Bob Ponder, who moved from Detroit, MI to 51st Street South, a year ago, said Gulfport needs to put their homeless plight in perspective with other cities.
“If you think you have a homeless problem with two or three people, come to Detroit and see what is going on there,” Ponder said.
Ponder said homelessness is solved by funding mental health programs.
“It strikes me that some of the people that are against homelessness, are also against funding helping these people,” Ponder said. “So, try that.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 8, The Gabber spoke with Crudup and let him know locals had, at the prior night’s council meeting, discussed his presence and asked him if he wanted to comment.
Crudup praised the city manager for protecting his rights.
“It’s my American right to be wherever I want,” Crudup told The Gabber. “It’s my right to be whoever I want to.”