Finding a solution to the county's homeless has beset officials for years. In the last few years high unemployment numbers amplified the need for shelters.
St Petersburg faced a growing dilemma with many homeless kicked out of city parks. After sunset they wander downtown for a spot to rest. Only to be cited or arrested for trespassing or ordinance violations.
In December the Sheriff's Office announced a solution—a 500-bed shelter that would give the homeless a bed, showers, bathrooms, clothes, three meals a day and resources to get them on their feet again.
The shelter, Pinellas Safe Harbor Homeless Shelter, opened today.
They are ready to take in 25 people. That number will grow to 50 in the first week then gradually to 250.
"We're trying to provide the basic necessities," said St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.
It costs the county $125 a day to keep an inmate. That's a hefty fee to pay for the homeless who tend to be repeat offenders non-violent crimes.
The Sheriff's Office rebuts claims that they are creating new homeless. Chief Gueltieri said the homeless are in cities from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
"They are here anyway," Foster said.
The Sheriff's Office said they are moving them to one location and freeing up much needed services.
The shelter's takes in the homeless who are part of the criminal justice system. By doing this, resources for homeless families are freed up.
"It's a portal toward self sufficiency," Foster said, "Hopefully people will be motivated to help themselves."
Sarah Synder, executive director of Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, said one third of Pinellas County's homeless are children under 18. And there's a growing trend of more homeless families. The majority of the county's over 2000 homeless have lived here for over a year. They came with jobs, family ties and hopes, Synder said.
Instead of paying $125 to house a homeless inmate at the county jail, the shelter will provide more resources and the basic necessities at a cost of $2 a day.
"The savings is going to be significant," said Bob Gualtieri, Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy.
But the specific dollar amount is yet to be seen, Gualtieri added.
The county jail averages 135 inmates a day. With an average of 22 days of incarceration the county will see significant savings with the shelter.
From 2005 to 2010, Alan Mason, a homeless man, spent 500 days in the county jail for crimes like ordinance violations. Over the five year period he cost the county $68,000.
"This shelter is a solution," Gualtieri said.
Although there will be those who refuse the help, the ones who stick to the plan will be provided resources and training through a collaborate effort with non-profit organizations.
"We don't want people to think this is a free ride. They have to re-learn how to do things," Synder said.
Foster reached out to various municipalities and forked out $100,000 of the city's money toward the shelter. Pinellas Park and Clearwater have tentatively committed $50,000 each.
Foster reached out to the city of Largo in December but no firm commitment has been made.
The start up costs for the shelter is $1.8 million. The county is paying the utilities.
"It's a start, it's a beginning," Foster said, "It's better than a cardboard box on a street corner."