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Homeless shelter neighbors frustrated with Sheriff

The Pinellas County Sheriff got an ear-full from outraged neighbors at a town hall Thursday evening. Nearly one hundred neighbors and business owners showed-up to voice their concern about growing crime rates around the county's new homeless shelter on 49th Street, Safe Harbor.

Tuesday, 10News showed you how the crime rate in a nearly 3 mile radius around Safe Harbor has nearly doubled since the shelter opened its doors in January.

Sheriff Jim Coats and his Chief Deputy say they're already stepping-up patrols nearby. They will also start enforcing new rules at the shelter to crack down on drunks and trouble-makers. Still, some neighbors wonder if even that will be enough.

"The guy was hiding right behind this truck, and as I went... as I approached my car...I have the bag in my hand," Kenny Patel tells us, describing an attack. "As I'm about to open the [car] door, the guy came from behind me. He stabbed me right in the back, without even asking me anything."

Patel says just two weeks ago, a homeless man stabbed him, to rob him of cash from his liquor store on East Bay Drive in Largo. Patel says it happened in the middle of the afternoon on his way to the bank.

"I threw the money bag," Patel says, "it landed on top of the bread truck." As he screamed for help, the attacker ran off.

Patel says he has no doubt the vagrant came from the Safe Harbor homeless shelter just down the road. "We've been having a lot of problems. The theft? My theft is so high. We've caught so many, so many homeless people stealing."

It's problems and crimes like that-- that brought nearly one hundred people to a community forum Thursday evening to let their voices be heard.

One Largo resident at the meeting shouted, "the Sheriff's Department brought the problem to my neighborhood and to my business, but the Sheriff's Department isn't solving it."

The Pinellas Sheriff manages Safe Harbor, and with enough complaints of increased crime-- deputies organized the neighborhood forum.

"All y'all are doing is sugar-coating this stuff. You're making it bad for the community," insisted another upset Largo resident.

10News Reporter Chase Cain asked Sheriff Jim Coats, "What do you say to the person who says, 'you brought these problems to my neighborhood?'" Sheriff Coats responded, "Well, these problems existed in the county. There's no question about it, and some of these problems existed when these individuals were booked into our jail & released, and they were still walking the streets in the 49th Street corridor."

Sheriff Coats does promise change, and for neighbors of Safe Harbor- it can't happen fast enough.

"It's crazy. It's hurting my business," Kenny Patel says.

There's still the issue with the City of Largo. Many of the police and emergency calls for the homeless end up falling on Largo because the shelter is so close to its city limits. Those increased calls stretch their city services thin. The police chief told 10News they will have to work out an arrangement with the Pinellas Sheriff to ease that burden.

Sheriff Coats says his office remains committed to Safe Harbor and has no plans to close or move the facility.

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