In approving priorities for the draft of a document the county and city will submit to the federal government, views diverge over specific language
On Nov. 10, the issue of establishing a community shelter for the chronically homeless arose for the second time this week during a Sarasota County Commission meeting, and, once again, it resulted in a disagreement with the City of Sarasota. (See the related story in this issue.)
Don Hadsell, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, appeared before the county board on Nov. 10, seeking its approval of draft priorities that would be funded by the federal and state governments as part of the community’s Consolidated Plan for the 2016-2021 fiscal years.
Such a plan has to be prepared by each jurisdiction that receives money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for housing and community development programs, Hadsell explained. The final document is due to HUD in August 2016.
Because the County Commission and the Sarasota City Commission years ago formed a consortium to obtain one type of HUD funding, Hadsell continued, the two local governments work together to craft each five-year Consolidated Plan. The last such document was completed in 2011, and it will run through Sept. 30, 2016, according to a memo Hadsell provided the County Commission.
The committee that put together the draft priorities for the new plan, Hadsell noted, is composed of six people: Wayne Applebee, the county’s coordinator of homelessness services; Doug Logan, the city’s director of special initiatives on chronic homelessness; David Smith, the city’s general manager for integration; Jane Grogg, the county’s manager of Neighborhood Services; and one representative each from the City of Venice and the City of North Port.
Their top proposed priority, Hadsell told the County Commission, is a coordinated entry system for chronically homeless individuals.
When Commissioner Christine Robinson asked him to elaborate on that, Hadsell replied that the committee members feel the community needs one location to serve as an entry point for chronically homeless individuals seeking assistance.
When Robinson asked whether the proposal was for an office or a shelter, Hadsell said discussion focused on a shelter or triage center. “That was left to be determined,” he added, noting that the facility could be an office.
Right now, Hadsell continued, the United Way 2-1-1 of Manasota, the Salvation Army and the Sarasota offices of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of the Suncoast Inc. serve as entry points. The committee members spent considerable time discussing whether to put the focus on multiple entry points, he added, but Applebee specifically recommended the single site.
“What’s our ability to restructure or reword [that line in the priority list]?” Commissioner Charles Hines asked.
“I think you can,” Hadsell responded.
On Nov. 6, Hines pointed out, the County and City commissions received copies of a section of the current Consolidated Plan, which includes mention of a shelter in North County.
Hines was referring to material Michael Barfield, a Sarasota resident who is vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Florida, gave members of both boards during the special meeting of the two boards. (See the related stories in this issue.)
During the public comments segment of the Nov. 6 meeting, Barfield referenced the Consolidated Plan, noting that it calls for the creation of a shelter in North County in the 2015 fiscal year. The document also said the city would partially fund the facility, though the structure would not necessarily be located within the city limits, Barfield added.
Hadsell did not watch or attend the Nov. 6 meeting, he told the county commissioners, because he was out of town.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said that he recalled clearly when language about a shelter was included in the current Consolidated Plan; he was a city commissioner at the time.
Hines told Hadsell that during the Nov. 6 session, the city and county boards both acknowledged the need for a community shelter. “So I’m curious why we’re not just saying it here [in the list of high priorities]. … I think the first line needs to be changed. … Let’s quit dancing around [the subject] and put it in there.”
When the Consolidated Plan committee met to draft the priorities, Hadsell replied, he believed the members had not reached the point where they could agree on incorporating language regarding a shelter, although the two local government bodies have come to such an accord since then. “In my mind,” Hadsell added, “the differences [in the commissions’ views of a shelter] are size and location.”
He continued, “I don’t see a problem with the county asking for that first line to say, “Coordinated entry system for chronic [sic] homeless individuals that may include a shelter. … I would take that back to the city and see what their response is.”
Hadsell did caution the commissioners that if they choose to proceed with the modified language regarding the shelter, HUD funding might not be sufficient to help the two local government boards establish a shelter. Further, he pointed out, use of federal money necessitates complying with specific guidelines, and that could raise problems the boards might not prefer to deal with in the establishment of the facility.
“I understand the restrictions,” Hines replied, noting that the County Commission the previous day directed County Administrator Tom Harmer and his staff to continue working on funding strategies for a shelter, including county, city, state, federal and nonprofit sources.
“This is a national problem,” Hines added of homelessness. “To deal with it appropriately, everyone needs to be involved.”
When Vice Chair Al Maio, presiding in the absence of Chair Carolyn Mason, asked whether he had the consensus of all the commissioners for Hadsell to propose the language change to the city staff and commissioners, the county board members said he did.
Nonetheless, Hines made a formal motion to provide that direction to Hadsell. It passed unanimously.
Later that day …
The topic came up again at the conclusion of the board’s regular business on Nov. 10. Harmer noted that he had provided all the commissioners with a copy of an email he had received from Hadsell after the earlier discussion.
In that email, Hadsell explained that after he left the commission meeting, he went to the City of Sarasota review of that commission’s Nov. 16 agenda. When he proposed the language change to City Manager Tom Barwin, Hadsell continued, Barwin liked the idea. However, Barwin asked Hadsell whether the County Commission would be agreeable to a modification saying, “Coordinated entry system for chronic homeless individuals, which may include a shelter/triage center.”
Hines told his colleagues this was a matter of semantics. “I don’t have a problem with [that change].”
However, Commissioner Robinson proposed a slight adjustment: “I would say, ‘shelter and/or triage center.’”
When Harmer asked whether the board wanted to put that in a formal motion, Robinson pointed out that it was obvious from Hadsell’s email that the City Commission had not voted on the modification Hines had suggested.
Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy told the board members that since this was a “very preliminary” discussion regarding the crafting of the priorities, a vote was not necessary.
When Maio asked for consensus again, he received it.
As he had during his presentation earlier in the day, Hadsell noted in his email that he would be back before both boards in February 2016, after further community review of the draft Consolidated Plan for 2016-2021. Two public meetings will be part of the latter process. In February, he explained earlier in the day, the commissions will be asked to finalize their priorities; in April 2016, they will be tasked with selecting activities they want to see funded through HUD.
The schedule for completing the new Consolidated Plan also calls for a 30-day public comment period on the draft; that is set to begin in May 2016.