Expert: Homelessness in PC ‘off the charts’


PANAMA CITY — The number of homeless people in downtown Panama City is overwhelming city services, an expert on homelessness said Thursday.

During a town hall meeting at First Baptist Church in Panama City regarding the homeless, Robert G. Marbut, an expert in homelessness and developer of the “Haven of Hope” campus in San Antonio, said police activity regarding the homeless on the streets of Panama City is “off the charts.”

A second community meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday in the Bay County Commission chambers.

Marbut said he read two reports, one from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and the other from the Panama City Police Department, that indicated an exceedingly high amount of arrests and police activity around the Panama City Mission area.

Marbut said the numbers are six or seven times higher than San Antonio or St. Petersburg.

“These numbers are huge,” Marbut said. “It’s the police activity and the amount of engagements there and then 25 percent of those are leading to arrests. These numbers are outrageous. The number of encampments you have…I have never seen that many anywhere in the country and I am working in Arkansas where encampments are a known thing.”

Marbut said the police activity in the area surrounding the Panama City Rescue Mission and stores like the Grocery Outlet on Sixth Street is equal to a city of 1.5 million people.

“I am working in Fort Smith, Ark., which is three times larger than you, even if you are doing county or regional areas and they have four encampments. I have heard of about a hundred here. I saw a dozen last night,” Marbut said.

State Attorney Glenn Hess, who was at the meeting, told The News Herald that when he was a judge his approach was to sort the homeless according to the risk they posed.

“As a judge my philosophy has always been to figure out which ones are dumb and which ones were dangerous,” Hess said. “We put the dangerous ones away. We tried to help the dumb ones.”

Whether it’s encampments or police engagements and total arrests, Panama City’s numbers are larger than any place he has ever seen, Marbut said.

“San Antonio total street homeless is under 100, Pinellas County street homeless is under 100. The lowest street homeless here is 250. That is the lowest number I saw. That is what I mean when I say your numbers are off the charts.”

Marbut told the group gathered at the church the city needs to bring all the agencies, including law enforcement, together in attempt to help the homeless situation in the city.

That’s an idea Mayor Greg Brudnicki has supported. He would like to use Marbut’s “campus concept” bringing all the agencies that deal with the homeless and the mission into one central location to ease costs and bring better counseling and care to the homeless.

“That is what the task force has been talking about doing in the past few months,” Brudnicki said. “We would like to get all that stuff together.”

Brudnicki said he would have to see if the financials could be worked out to bring all the agencies needed into one central location.


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