Agenda for Nov. 6 joint city/county meeting on homelessness a work in progress, City Commission learns

City staff says this week that more details should be available after the county board meets next week

City Manager Tom Barwin. File photo
City Manager Tom Barwin. File photo

Sarasota city staff is looking to Sarasota County administrative staff to clarify options for the Nov. 6 agenda when the two boards will meet the first time since June 2014 to discuss homelessness in the community.

That was the report City Manager Tom Barwin and Doug Logan, director of the city’s Special Initiative on the Chronic Homeless, told the city commissioners during their regular meeting on Oct. 5.

“I’m getting the sense … or at least the indication [from the county] that the desire is to have only one item on this agenda,” Logan said. That is the concept of a come-as-you-are shelter for the homeless. He added that focus also would be on the July 1 letter county board Chair Carolyn Mason sent to Mayor Willie Shaw.

The letter explained that the county commissioners received a progress report the previous month from Robert Marbut, the consultant on homelessness issues the city and county jointly hired in 2013. As a result, the letter said, the county commissioners had authorized County Administrator Tom Harmer to work with Marbut on evaluation and due diligence regarding the three options Marbut had outlined:

  • Option A1 — The “3 to 1 Plan,” proposed by chief executive officers of local nonprofit organizations, which calls for transforming the current Salvation Army shelter on 10th Street in Sarasota into a come-as-you-are facility and relocating to it the day services of the Resurrection House; the Salvation Army would no longer provide overnight shelter.
  • Option A2 — Consolidating homelessness services as described in A1, but putting the come-as-you-are shelter at the Harvest Tabernacle’s main campus, located at 209 N. Lime Ave. in Sarasota.
  • A3 — Supporting the creation of the come-as-you-are shelter in the unincorporated area of the county, but within one-quarter mile or so of the city limits. With this option, the county would request that Resurrection House and the Salvation Army relocate or discontinue their services, as indicated in the 3 to 1 Plan.

“I’m still advocating for looking at the issue [of homelessness] on a larger basis,” Logan told the city commissioners, adding that he was scheduled to meet later in the week with Wayne Applebee, the county’s homelessness services director.

Doug Logan is director of the city's Special Initiative on Chronic Homeless.
Doug Logan is director of the city’s Special Initiative on Chronic Homeless.

Barwin noted that Harmer had told him Harmer was still seeking clarification from the county commissioners about the scope of the agenda. Nonetheless, Barwin said, “I think Doug’s instincts may be absolutely spot-on.”

On Sept. 8, the consensus among the county commissioners was to limit the discussion to how the boards can collaborate on helping the chronic homeless in the county. The Nov. 6 joint meeting was scheduled after the County Commission sent a letter to the city on July 1, seeking renewed discussion. Mayor Willie Shaw responded with a letter on Aug. 19, indicating the city board’s willingness “to discuss next steps.”

Barwin pointed out that he also had communicated to Harmer the city board members’ desire to invite the other municipalities to participate in the joint meeting. Harmer responded that he would bring that up at a County Commission meeting next week, Barwin added. The county board will meet on Oct. 13 in Venice and on Oct. 14 in Sarasota.

In an Oct. 4 email exchange, Harmer asked Barwin, “[W]as the City Commission direction to only participate in the [Nov. 6] meeting if it was a joint meeting with all the cities and the county meeting at one time or was the direction to make sure the other cities were aware of the meeting and inviting them to attend if they wanted to?”

County Administrator Tom Harmer. Rachel Hackney photo
County Administrator Tom Harmer. Rachel Hackney photo

Barwin replied, “The majority of the [City Commission] felt there would be considerable merit if all cities in the county were invited to a joint meeting with the [County Commission] on the subject of chronic homelessness. As you know we have discussed these issues on several occasions at [the county’s Council of Governments meetings] and there has been considerable interest. It was a request — suggestion, and not an ultimatum. With funding being such a challenge more input and participation could help begin to move toward identifying a potential consensus to explore funding options.”

Barwin also reminded the city commissioners on Oct. 5 that Harmer had invited them to hear the Oct. 13 presentation by Pinellas County Sheriff Robert Gualtieri regarding his department’s operation of the Safe Harbor homeless shelter in Clearwater. That is scheduled just after the start of the afternoon County Commission session, which will begin at 1:30 p.m., Logan added. He and Barwin plan to attend the session, Logan said.

During further discussion, Barwin referenced the city board’s interest in a “housing first” approach to chronic homelessness. He provided statistics he recently had found showing that the estimate for putting one person in a housing unit is about $1,000 per month. For 100 people in one year, he noted, that totals $1.2 million. “All the other issues pale compared to that,” Barwin added of the expense.

During the federal government’s required, annual Point-In-Time Survey of the homeless, conducted early this year, volunteers counted 1,106 homeless people in the city limits. (See the related story in this issue.)