During the course of Sabbath services this afternoon, my mother sent me two messages about a mysterious altercation involving some homeless people that happened right outside the location where the Tampa congregation of my church organization has their church services in Pasco county. At first, the report was that there was some kind of altercation going on right outside the building and that the brethren were staying inside but that the situation was scary, and later on I was told that the members had been able to return home and that things had settled down eventually, perhaps with the help of some police or sheriff’s deputies. And that, for the moment, is all I know, since I have not been able to find any other reporting on the story, as it appears not to have made the news cycle in the Tampa Bay area, perhaps because the area where it happened is a bit marginal as far as reporting for the Tampa media is concerned.
At first I was puzzled in thinking that it wouldn’t make sense that mostly rural Pasco county would have a huge enough problem with the homeless where an altercation like this would make sense. The area where the Tampa congregation has its meetings is Zephyrhills, a small town of about 15,000 people or so in rural Central Florida. Yet Pasco County definitely has a homeless problem from what I have been able to uncover, despite the fact that one would not figure small towns would be the most obvious place for homeless people to congregate in the expectation of help. Here is what one of Tampa’s local news channels had to say about a place where homeless were congregating on the other side of Pasco County: “They leave trash, use drugs, and trespass on private property. Neighbors in a Pasco County community are fed up with homeless people congregating near their homes. Just a stone’s throw from busy Highway 19 and New Port Richey, you’ll find a place where hard working folks are trying to cope, living next to large groups of homeless people. The street name “Leisure Lane” may conjure up images of easy living and the good life. “I’m left with 40 to 50 people in the field across the street right now” said neighbor, Rosa Immel. In a vacant field, homeless people have set up camp. Trash abounds, and neighbors report rampant drug usage. “Raise all kinds of cane. Cuss. Throw stuff. I got stuff in my garbage cans now that’s not mine” said Immel.” If these are problems in one part of Pasco County, it would not be unreasonable to think that the same problems would exist in other parts of the county as well.
Hearing about the incident only gives me questions about how it was that this altercation started. Who was the fight between? Was it homeless people fighting each other? Or were they trying to pick a fight with the congregation’s security crew? What was it that the homeless people were doing in that area in the first place? What were they looking for? How did things escalate to the point where the congregation felt its safety was in danger? How was the situation resolved? Was it through conversation that lowered the temperature of the interaction or was it through the intervention of police forces? These are the kinds of questions I am curious about, but it is quite possible that either frightened churchgoers or angry homeless people would not exactly be the best people to explain how it was that an awkward interaction spread out of control. As far as writers go, awkward interactions that spin out of control to active hostility is admittedly a specialty of mine, as communication goes wrong is about the most Nathanish subject I can think of, but people who have communication that goes awry are not always the best people when it comes to providing insight about their problems. After all, if someone had insight about how communication went wrong and how it could be done well, the general assumption is that one would not have so many problems with it.
What are we left with here? We have a reminder about the seriousness of the homeless problem in the United States and the way that it has threatened the safety of brethren in a small town who have very little in the way of political interests. We have a reminder that, for whatever reason, what began as a tense interaction became a much more frightening one, and that such problems can happen wherever one happens to be, and not only big cities. People with substance abuse problems, likely mental health issues, and a distinct lack of respect for the property rights of others are not particularly easy people to deal with, especially when one is resisting what it is they want. Likewise, we can be people with whom it is easy for bad interactions to go south in a hurry, and that is something we need to examine ourselves about. It is easy to write off one bad interaction as being a fluke, but if one starts to see patterns, then one needs to engage in some self-examination to see what needs to be done. Whether or not this problem between a congregation and some aggressive homeless is a one-off event or becomes a more serious problem is a matter where only time will tell.