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Martin County sheriff calls vagrant problem 'public safety issue'

'We know that we have homeless burglars here,' Martin County Sheriff, William Snyder says
Posted at 7:20 PM, Apr 11, 2024

HOBE SOUND, Fla. — Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said the increasing amount of homeless encampments and vagrants is a public safety issue. He said some of the people are coming from out of the county or state and may be homeless by choice.

Snyder and deputies showed WPTV reporter Kate Hussey a homeless encampment in the woods of Hobe Sound.

The encampment didn't have tents or campfires but piles of trash, debris, broken down bicycles and more.

"We'll find a mixture of garbage out here, including human excrement," Snyder said.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder describes the growing number of homeless he's seeing in the area, creating what he says is a public safety issue.
Martin County Sheriff William Snyder describes the growing number of homeless he's seeing in the area, creating what he says is a public safety issue.

Snyder said the encampment is one of several popping up throughout the county, a problem he said is mounting.

"I don't remember 20, 25 years ago seeing this kind of behavior on public or private property," Snyder said. "This is going to get worse until we as a society get it right and start dealing with mental health, drug abuse and fractured families."

Snyder said the camp was likely there for months and was likely home to several people. Because it's on private property, Snyder said the cost of cleaning it falls on the property owner.

However, Snyder's main issue is with the people he said are often making the messes. He said at least nine of his deputies are dedicated to helping those experiencing homelessness.

Snyder told WPTV that many of those living in the encampments don't want help and have violent or criminal histories.

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"We know that we have homeless burglars here. We also have sex offenders that register their address as right here," Snyder said. "We have homeless that could be living right here or on a property near you that have warrants. We know of two."

The two people he is referring to include Peter Sievers, 40, and Denisha Pablonis, 42, both considered homeless.

Deputies said both have open warrants in other states with no extradition, and both have violent backgrounds.

Deputies said Sievers is labeled with violent tendencies and is known to be armed and dangerous and has a history of burglary, assault, grand theft, battery and aggravated assault with a weapon.

Richard Gruver was arrested in Martin County after deputies said he followed a Stuart woman to her home.
Richard Gruver was arrested in Martin County after deputies said he followed a Stuart woman to her home.

Pablonis' history includes assault, DUI, domestic battery and drugs, according to deputies.

Deputies also arrested Robert Gruver, 56, this week on prowling and loitering charges after a Stuart woman called 911 to report him following her home. In Ring camera video, you can see Gruver walk up to her door, ring her doorbell, and ask if she's home.

Deputies said they found Gruver hiding out near the home. When they arrested him, he listed his address as Love and Hope In Action, a Stuart nonprofit that helps those experiencing homelessness.

Snyder said he feared the facility is drawing more drifters in.

"That's our fear. I get that people want to do a good thing, they don't want anyone to be hungry. But balanced with their desire to feed people is public safety, and my job is public safety," Snyder said. "I couldn't give you the exact solution, but I can tell you unequivocally, this ain't it."

Brenda Dickerson, the founder of Love and Hope in Action, said she sees the problem from a different angle.

"We're going to help anyone in need. If I were homeless and in a bad situation I would be googling a shelter," Dickerson said. "Homeless services, food pantries, soup kitchens, so of course, in a Google search, we're going to pop up in Martin County."

Brenda Dickerson speaks with WPTV reporter Kate Hussey about the services available to the homeless in Martin County at Love and Hope in Action.
Brenda Dickerson speaks with WPTV reporter Kate Hussey about the services available to the homeless in Martin County at Love and Hope in Action.

Dickerson said the facility offers showers, food and clothing but doesn't house anyone, so Gruver never lived there.

She also said the nonprofit is careful with who they help.

"We make ourselves aware of who is here," Dickerson said. "If someone has a current warrant, we're not going to be harboring them."

Dickerson said the type of people the center serves vary, but said the majority lately are seniors who are now homeless for the first time and burdened by the cost of living. She said only a small number are homeless by choice and could be considered vagrants.

"Is there something more that we should be doing to address that — whether it's mental health issue or other?" Hussey asked.

"Yeah, I mean, we can't force anyone to do anything, and if they're here and they're causing problems, there are consequences to their behavior," Dickerson said. "Our office is doing their very best to refer them to agencies that can help them."

Dickerson said the nonprofit often does connect those who come for help to mental health help and other resources, and Snyder said help with mental health is a root cause that needs to be addressed.

"What you see here is a confluence of underemployment, under-education, bad lifestyle choices, mental illness and drug abuse," Snyder said. "It all comes together in an obnoxious mixture that results in what you see right here."

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed legislation prohibiting squatting and camping in public places.

Snyder said many of the encampments they deal with are happening on private property, so without permission from property owners, there's not much deputies could do.

He's considering asking lawmakers to amend the legislation to give law enforcement more power to work with those owners.