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Bill Sharpe, Publisher of Tampa's Homeless Newspaper, Apparently Kills Himself

Apr 3, 2012

The man behind the Tampa Epoch newspaper for and about the homeless has been found dead at his newspaper's office. Police say it was suicide.

Bill Sharpe, 59, launched the newspaper to help panhandlers make money legitimately after local governments passed restrictions and bans on panhandling.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that police and the medical examiner have not released the exact cause of death:

Friends said Sharpe had run into financial problems as his flagship newspaper, South Tampa Community News, struggled to make money in the recession and as he poured his heart — and what savings he had — into Tampa Epoch.

Last year, he lost his Bayshore Boulevard condo to foreclosure, county records show. He could not pay his staff. He moved himself and his cat into his offices.

But friends and associates said Sharpe retained his characteristic optimism and drive to improve the lives of the homeless people he considered his friends.

The future of the newspaper itself is in doubt. Dozens of people sold the paper for $1 each, after buying them for 25 cents from Sharpe.

Mitch Perry at Creative Loafing says the paper ran into a lot of opposition:

Sharpe said that he had received unrelenting criticism when he announced that he would publish a homeless paper, which he decided to do well before the Tampa City Council ultimately passed a partial ban on homelessness that allowed newspaper hawkers to continue to sell papers last October.

The paper was on the streets by mid-November. Sharpe said that in the first month or so after the Epoch began publishing, in the comments section of articles written about his paper in the Tampa Bay Times or Tampa Tribune, “80 to 90 percent hated me.” But in January he said that public opinion had swayed to the other side.

When news first broke that he was going to publish the paper, which came after a wrenching yearlong debate about a panhandlng ban, there was anger in some quarters of Tampa — including a Facebook page calling for an advertiser boycott of all of Sharpe's publications.

Among those critics was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said he personally liked Sharpe very much, but was not in support of the paper.

No word yet on any services for Sharpe.