TAMPA — Across Interstate 4 from Ybor City’s nightlife, another part of the historic neighborhood has an odor less nostalgic — and much less pleasant — than cigar smoke and roasting coffee beans.
V.M. Ybor, named after the Spaniard who founded the city’s cigar industry, has a stretch along Nebraska Avenue that has become a sore spot among residents for the trash, loitering and, yes, human waste accumulating in the neighborhood.
Police say crime is going down and they, along with city officials, have stepped up efforts to connect the chronically homeless with services.
But the pooping is only getting worse, said Sal Ruggiero, the Neighborhood Enhancement Division manager.
"I understand that it is to the point where we’ve had to buy our cleanup folks out there environmental suits," Ruggiero said.
The crews are outfitted with disposable jumpsuits that cover their boots. They also get rubber gloves, Ruggiero said after the meeting.
"I was a little concerned for their safety," he told the Tampa Bay Times.
Kim Headland, a neighborhood resident, said she’s had her fill of the mess.
"We need City Council’s help," Headland told council members at a Thursday workshop. "I can’t keep up with the litter. And I sure can’t keep up with the human defecation. Period. Sorry, I can’t do it."
Many of the residents blamed Trinity Cafe, which serves up to 300 meals a day at its facility at 2801 N Nebraska Ave.
Shannon Hannon Oliviero, the nonprofit’s director of communications and development, said Trinity has implemented its own twice-monthly cleanup efforts within a three-block radius of the cafe.
The group’s staff and volunteers encourage clients not to litter and to respect the neighborhood. The cafe’s restrooms are open at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends and by request prior to those times, according to a Trinity fact sheet.
Several volunteers testified that the grounds are kept clean and the cafe has tried hard to curb the problem.
"It seems like everyone wants to put everyone in the same bag — all bad," said Trinity volunteer Louis McGee. "I challenge them to come see what we do."
Kelly Grimsdale, who lives nearby, said the cafe should expand the hours that its restrooms are available. And the large volume of meals served by Trinity and the problems associated with its clientele are too much for the neighborhood to handle, she said.
"When is too many simply too many and what they do is simply out of scale with the neighborhood?" Grimsdale asked.
The cafe represents a small portion of the police calls, said Tampa police Capt. Mike Flynn. The department has assigned two officers to educate homeless residents about services available to them and to discourage behavior such as sleeping on bus benches.
"We can’t arrest our way out of this. Homelessness is not a crime," Flynn said.
Council members said they understood neighborhood concerns but also praised Trinity Cafe for its work. Perhaps, council member Frank Reddick said, enlisting businesses along Nebraska Avenue to help solve the problem might work.
"We’re going to shake them up," Reddick said. Chairwoman Yvonne "Yolie" Capin offered her help.
"We’ll walk the streets together," Reddick said.
Council member Guido Maniscalco, who has volunteered at Trinity, said a balance needs to be struck on the homelessness issue.
"We don’t want to demonize anything, but we also want to respect homeowners in the area."