Monday, February 19, 2007

Lakeland's homeless
are hidden in plain sight

Bobby Gene "Tennessee" Hibbs, 65, has a smoke after making his cardboard bed for the night near a convenience store in Lakeland.

by Cindy Skop
of The Ledger

They see you -- but chances are you don't see them.

Lakeland police, working with the Homeless Coalition of Polk County, recently did a survey of the camps they could find. They documented 20 homeless camps all around the city. "The camps are all over the place," said LPD spokesman Jack Gillen. "If you see a wooded area, chances are somebody is sleeping in there."

Most of the people who live and sleep outside do so because they want nothing to do with shelters. A smaller group doesn't stay inside because the few weeks they are allowed in the shelters is up.

"I won't stay in a shelter," said Bobby Gene Hibbs, 65, better known as "Tennessee."

Late on a recent chilly night, Hibbs napped on a flattened cardboard box on a vacant lot alongside U.S. 98 North, beer in hand, just 25 feet from the busy highway. The closer to a bustling street, the less chance of getting beaten and robbed of his change, he said.

Read The Ledger story -- and see more pictures -- here.


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