Charles Hines cites success of SHIFTS program and potential of Comprehensive Treatment Court, but bemoans county’s inability to establish a come-as-you-are shelter
After the Sarasota County Commission heard updates last week on the status of its major initiatives for the year, Commissioner Charles Hines broached a subject that seems to have no resolution in sight.
“One of our main priorities this year was to address homelessness,” he said late in the afternoon of July 12. “We are still lacking the come-as-you-are shelter.”
The board early this year was stymied once again as it sought to secure a site for such a facility. Owner of property in north Sarasota wanted what the commissioners agreed was too high a price. The board directed staff to keep looking for an appropriate site.
Hines acknowledged that the board had made some strides. It increased funding for the Sheriff’s Housing Initiative Facilitating Transient Service (SHIFTS) program, which is coordinated through the Sheriff’s Office, Sarasota County Health and Human Services and Community Assisted and Supported Living (CASL). That action doubled the number of beds available for homeless individuals and paid for an outreach coordinator and a substance abuse therapist. Additionally, the board and the Sarasota City Commission both agreed to support the Comprehensive Treatment Court (CTC) proposal championed by county Judge Erika Quartermaine.
Assistant County Administrator Lee Ann Lowery reported during the July 12 meeting that the application for state funding for that program remains under development. It is due for submission on Sept. 21, Lowery added.
Nonetheless, Hines continued, aggressive panhandling once again is visible at all major intersections in the community. The board also recently received reports about homeless people gathering on Venice and Nokomis beaches, he said.
On July 6, the board members received an email from a man who explained that as he and his wife have been taking their daily morning walks on Nokomis Beach, they recently have been “confronted with several homeless people.” One of them, the man noted, “has lived there for the past five years approximately.”
The man continued, “This person is a woman and it appears she sleeps on the beach each night. I find this very concerning as her safety is in jeopardy daily/nightly. In addition, there are posted hours for the beach which it would appear are not being enforced.”
The man concluded by asking that the commissioners enforce the rules against allowing people to remain on the beach at night “before someone gets seriously hurt.”
Wayne Applebee, the county’s director of services for the homeless, reported to County Administrator Tom Harmer in an email the same day that he had asked the Sheriff’s Office and SHIFTS representatives to go to the beach. However, Applebee explained, “We have attempted to engage a female at that location in the past without success, but will give it another attempt, if it is the same individual.”
“In addition,” Applebee wrote, “we will gather information about others and offer services.”
“We’ve got a problem to deal with with the chronic homeless that will not engage,” Hines concluded his remarks on July 12.
City issues persist, too
City of Sarasota email copied to Harmer and Applebee on July 17 is an indication of ongoing concerns in the city. Sent by a downtown resident on July 15 to City Commissioner Liz Alpert and City Manager Tom Barwin, the email said the following:
“When is the commission going to actually SOLVE the homelessness issue that plagues our downtown?
For years now, I have had to abandon or restrict some things I used to do downtown because I cannot walk safely nor patronize city merchants without being accosted by the homeless. This is a real problem for downtown residents, especially women, as well as visitors. NOW I CANNOT USE THE NEARBY LIBRARY. It is occupied constantly by so many homeless persons and their belongings. The building serves essentially as an encampment inside and out. And patrons find it difficult at best to go about their business due to the din and distractions (aka inappropriate behavior). Why not just put a “shelter” sign on the door? The same should be done for the country administration building on Ringling on nights and weekends. Then there are the parks, the streets and the alleys.
The city’s inaction on SOLVING this issue has resulted in hopelessness for the homeless, for sure, AND THOSE WHO RESIDE DOWNTOWN. I hoped the new development, even to date, would encourage or, frankly, underwrite change. We don’t see it. And now I don’t believe it can or will happen.”
Latest county update
During her presentation to the County Commission on July 12, Assistant Administrator Lowery told the board members that she had nothing substantive to report on services for the homeless since Applebee sent them his quarterly report in June.
In that June report, Applebee wrote that SHIFTS has secured a full-time outreach worker “who is regularly engaged in street outreach at homeless encampments in unincorporated Sarasota County” and has visited such sites on county-owned or managed properties. He continued, “Regular outreach is ongoing at locations such as Selby Library [in downtown Sarasota], County Administration Building [on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota], Fruitville Park, Bay Street Park, Venice Beach, Patriots Park [in Venice], Venice Train Depot and Public Utilities property at Almond Avenue.”
That outreach had resulted in 17 of the 20 SHIFTS beds being occupied, he wrote.
Regarding the private sector: Applebee reported, “A project team has been identified to explore the inventory and barriers to increasing the participation of landlords in providing transitional housing.” That team, he noted, includes representatives from community foundations, nonprofits and local government, as well as Realtors. The first meeting tentatively was scheduled for June 27.
Further, Applebee wrote that Catholic Charities has been awarded $677,688 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to provide four family housing units in the North Port area and one in the Englewood area. “To date,” he noted, “three units in North Port have been purchased.” Two have been renovated, and a grand opening for them was planned on July 14. Renovation of the third unit was set to begin this month.
He added, “Catholic Charities continues to identify properties for purchase in both North Port and Englewood to complete the project by June 30, 2017.”
Applebee also reported on the Sarasota City Commission’s June 6 approval of a $289,054 contract with CASL for a Housing First initiative. He added, “[T]ogether with the previously awarded City and County funds of $525,000 from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) Program and $248,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Support Housing Program, more than $1 million [has] been awarded to CASL to expand permanent supportive housing in our community.”
As for the “Establish a Men’s and Women’s 24/7 Come-As-You-Are emergency shelter” initiative, Applebee noted it is “On Hold.”
On Sept. 20, he continued, leaders of the Kearney Center in Tallahassee, a 260-bed homeless facility that opened in 2015, will make a presentation to the County Commission. “Separate meetings with the local philanthropic and nonprofit communities will be scheduled the same day as well,” he added.
The Kearney Center is funded by philanthropic and nonprofit agencies, Applebee wrote, noting, “[I]t represents an alternative model for an adult emergency shelter.”