St. Augustine dedicates officers to help with issue of homelessness

Officers try to guide those in need toward resources to get off streets

By Allyson Henning - Reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The city of St. Augustine, its law enforcement and the waste management division are working together to help find a solution for a growing issue of homelessness in the area.

Homeless camps are causing some to be concerned for public safety, especially after a homeless man was accused of raping a woman in a public restroom last month in the historic area.

Many groups offer resources to help those dealing with homelessness, and the St. Augustine Police Department has dedicated two officers to focus only on the homeless population downtown every day.

“It’s hard. I know it’s a challenge for everyone,” Officer Dee Brown said. “That’s why we have these officers designated to guide them every step of the way. Here, let’s take this next step. Let’s make this phone call. It is a process, so it doesn’t happen overnight.”

The officers, who have been in place for a few months now, help the homeless men and women find resources to get off the streets. 

County officials are aware of at least five camps around the area right now.

In a wooded area just off State Road 207, clothes, bottles and other trash lines what appears to be a walkway with clear signs of people living nearby.

County code enforcement was spotted at another site off State Road 312.

An employee of a liquor store next to the camp said it’s frustrating for the business and its customers. 

“If they kept to themselves, it would be one thing, but whenever they are around people, they want to talk with them or they will ask them for money, and we don’t want that,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified.

The issue is complicated, authorities said, because many of these camps are on private property.

But officials want to be sure people living in the area know authorities are working behind the scenes to find a solution. 

Code enforcement officials completed inspections Tuesday at the vacant lot off of State Road 207 and the wooded area behind Broudy’s off of State Road 312, according to a St. Johns County spokesperson. Minimal trash and litter was visible from the legal access point-of-view off SR 207, but not enough to confirm a homeless camp. Code Enforcement identified the property’s owner and is notifying them of the issue. 

It was a similar situation at the site off State Road 312. Code Enforcement said the location is a railroad right-of-way. Minimal trash and litter was scattered in the area; however, there was no evidence to confirm a homeless camp. Code Enforcement will follow up with another inspection from the top of the overpass for a better view. They are also reaching out to Railroad Police to make them aware of the issue.

In a city like St. Augustine that depends on tourism, officials want to make sure guests feel safe. Dedicating two police officers to help the homeless is just one example of that effort. 

For those in need of help or who are looking to volunteer or donate to help the homeless, the organizations below are a good place to start:

  • St. Johns County Continuum of Care -- 904-819-3070
  • Homeless Coalition St. Johns (Emergency Services & Homeless Coalition) -- 904-819-0059
  • St. Francis House -- 904-829-8937
  • Dining with Dignity -- 904-829-9721
  • Salvation Army Food Pantry -- 904-824-6880

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