Officials continue investigation into midtown fire early Tuesday

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By: Monica Casey | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 6, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The State Fire Marshal's Office is investigating a fire that took place early Tuesday morning along North Monroe Street; the surrounding community believes it was started accidentally by some of the homeless population while squatting at the shuttered Cafe Taverna building.

Not all of the business owners around the old restaurant wanted to be on camera, but they told WCTV they believed the squatters had been there for about a month.

Cafe Taverna has been closed since May.

The Tallahassee Fire Department confirmed that it did respond to the fire, which was called in by a concerned citizen.

Deputy Fire Chief Richard Jones reminded citizens, if you see something, say something.

Decent Pizza is located across the street; owner Jacob Meister said business in the area is growing, with more and more foot traffic.

However, he said he does see the homeless population moving through the area,walking from Lake Ella to the bus station, and that is an added variable for his business.

"Every once in a while we have to keep an eye out and be cautious because, although they are mostly non-violent people, they do approach customers, they come inside," said Meister.

Meister said he keeps chairs for the outside tables inside of the restaurant, allowing customers who want to sit outside to carry them out; he said it helps stop loitering in front of the restaurant.

He told WCTV he does what he can for the homeless population in Tallahassee, letting people sit down and warm up or cool off when possible.

John Ackermann is the store manager at Rental Outlet, located next to Decent Pizza. He agrees with Meister that it's important to treat those struggling with homelessness with respect.

Neither of the men feel that the homeless population in the area hurts business; it's just another thing to think about.

"I don't see the homeless population as a nuisance," said Ackermann. "We have a lot of traffic from Lake Ella to the bus station, and you know they've got a place to stop along the way and get some clothes."

"Get some clothes" refers to the City Walk Urban Mission Thrift Store in the area, helping those who are down on their luck.

"Some people get off the bus in a t-shirt and shorts, and they come out of there with a coat in the winter. It's great," Ackermann said.

In addition to the North Monroe Street thrift store, City Walk Urban Mission is also working and fundraising to build a men's home.

Tackling the homelessness issue in Tallahassee is also a priority for the City; Tallahassee created a new Department of Community Services, with a focus on addressing the problem.

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