You Paid For It: Neighbors spearhead cleanup of St. Pete homeless park ignored by city

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Neighbors turned out in force Saturday to clean up trash and debris at Grandview Park in St. Petersburg, just days after a You Paid for It investigation revealed it has become a homestead for the homeless, largely ignored by city police and park managers.

Robert Blackmon owns an apartment building in the neighborhood and organized the Earth Day cleanup. Blackmon said he’s been trying to clean up the park on his own for years and has watched it deteriorate over time.

“There’s been a homeless population here for as long as I can remember,” Blackmon said. “You just have to get in there and do something about it.”

Blackmon said 15 volunteers from the Coquina Key Neighborhood Association picked up 564 plastic and glass bottles, and over 25 pounds of aluminum cans on Saturday. That group has a meeting Tuesday evening with City Council member Karl Nurse.

The volunteers, assisted by several St. Petersburg Police Department officers, also removed a few hundred pounds of trash and plastic bags, clothes, a mattress, a Christmas tree, an Adirondack chair, the bimini top for a boat, a bicycle, a large stuffed teddy bear, tons of shoes, car parts, a shopping cart, milk crates and the fuel tank and grill from the boat that caught on fire earlier this week, according to Blackmon.

Last week, another Grandview neighbor, Donna Bainter, showed us four or five homeless camps in Grandview’s mangroves, some of them littered with used toilet paper. Our investigation revealed that taxpayers invested $624,000 through the Penny for Pinellas and other state funding for boat ramps, shelters and picnic areas at the park just three years ago.

Within days of that report, Bainter said parks personnel began showing up at the park for maintenance and neighbors rallied last weekend for further cleanup. They spent Monday filling trailers with debris removed from some of the homeless camps and trimming the bushes to remove some of the cover along the shoreline.

“There are definitely people who care about this park,” Blackmon wrote to us last weekend. “It is important to keep it clean not only for those who live near it, but the entire bay as a whole, as Big Bayou leads directly out to Tampa Bay, and affects everyone in the Tampa Bay area.”

Local songwriter Alan Mowry said he grew up near the park and when he saw our You Paid For it investigation of the homeless problem at the park, he was inspired to write a ballad called “Living Grand in Grandview Park.”  His lyrics are a lament for the troubles of the homeless, but also for the sad state that Grandview has fallen into due to unchecked drug use and vagrancy.

“Have a king-size bed of cardboard and a milk crate for a chair. They’re hidden in the mangroves not too far away from here,” Mowry sings. “I’m living in Grandview Park, where the rent is always free, and I pay the price for freedom in total misery.”

Mowry said he spent his professional career teaching middle school science for 37 years and it hurts to see what is happening to the city’s homeless and his old neighborhood.

“It would be nice to keep things nice,” Mowry said. “But, I don’t know what the balance is.”

While we were interviewing Mowry and Blackmon, two men hanging out in a nearby picnic shelter nearly came to blows in a verbal dispute. It wasn’t clear what they were arguing about.

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