IMPACT
08/28/2012 09:26 am ET Updated Aug 28, 2012

At Republican National Convention, Tampa's Homeless Compete With Protesters For Food, Shelter

Tampa's homeless are concerned that they will have to compete with protesters for food and shelter during the Republican National Convention, but agencies are trying to devise a way to protect people living on the streets.

More than 15,000 protestors are slated to pour in to town for the RNC, which prompted the Homeless Coalition to collaborate with a network of organizations to help the homeless population, Tampa Bay Online reports. They’re planning on offering up special vouchers, which will grant up to 10 free nights at a shelter, and to keep such locations open later than usual.

"[The homeless] truly need to be protected during all of this," Lesa Weikel, spokeswoman for the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, told the news outlet. "And without a home it's pretty hard to protect yourself."

Considering that Tampa is the metro area with the highest homeless rate in the country -- where 6,400 people were living on the streets last year –- the homeless population is facing a host of unique challenges.

"For the last two weeks the emergency shelter has been running at capacity, which is not typical for this time of year,” Irene Zucco, of the Salvation Army, told Tampa Bay Online. “We have about 20 more people than we typically do."

To help alleviate some of the congestion, the Salvation Army in Tampa is opening its doors at 7 a.m. and allowing homeless people to camp out during the day, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The organization typically starts offering services at 4:30 p.m.

Other organizations are trying to find ways to effectively weed out protesters.

Michael Raposa, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul shelter, told the Tampa Bay Times that he's "petrified" of the influx of protesters. Raposa learned that activists have listed his shelter as a place to get free food and a roof over their heads.

One way the soup kitchen is aiming to curb freeloaders is by asking people who come for a meal to present a special social service ID.

"We have always had open doors," he told the news outlet. "But we are just not equipped to feed another 500 mouths."

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