New Salvation Army contract for emergency shelter beds for homeless persons wins County Commission approval

Because of misunderstanding, HOT bed funding request not included in list of human services programs board members approved in September

This section of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Annual Report for 2022 discusses the Homeless Outreach Team’s work. Image courtesy of the Sheriff’s Office

The Sarasota County Commission has agreed to a new contract with the Salvation Army in Sarasota to provide emergency shelter beds for homeless individuals.

The total amount for the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, is $324,093, a county staff memo said. That reflected a rate increase from $35 to $38.50 per bed, for up to 23 beds that can be utilized per night by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Homeless Outreach Team members, the memo explained. During the 2023 fiscal year, that memo pointed out, the Salvation Army received $293,825 to provide up to 23 HOT beds a night.

The item was listed on the board’s Oct. 10 Consent Agenda of routine business matters, which won unanimous approval.

In its 2022 Annual Report, the Sheriff’s Office noted that its Homeless Outreach Team, which comprises two deputies and three civilian case managers, logged 547 contacts and deputy referrals last year, with 937 case management follow-ups.

The staff memo in the Oct. 10 agenda packet explained that the Salvation Army contract normally would have been included in the list of programs recommended for annual funding as part of the county’s contracted human services process.

Members of a county board, the Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC), vet the applications for such programs and provides their recommendations to the commissioners.

This year, although the board ended up discussing those programs on Sept. 12, followed by an initial vote, and again on Sept. 26, with further funding awards, the Salvation Army request was not among the HSAC programs under consideration.

The Salvation Army had not submitted its application for the HOT bed funding, the Oct. 10 county memo said.

When staff spoke with a Salvation Army representative, the memo continued, staff learned that Salvation Army staff did not understand that it needed to apply for the funds through the HSAC process. Yet, Salvation Army leaders wanted the program to proceed, the memo said. Since the application period had ended, the memo noted, the contract had to be considered on its own.

According to terms of a county Quality of Life ordinance that went into effect on March 31, 2018, the memo also explained, the Salvation Army provides the HOT beds not only to individuals experiencing homelessness but also to those who have violated that ordinance who “indicate a desire to enter emergency shelter in lieu of jail” or those who, through interaction with Homeless Outreach Team members have made a request to enter the emergency shelter.

A section of the new contract says, “It is intended that the HOT Beds will have low barriers to entry and low demands for stay, so that they are accessible to people who need shelter the most; are focused on moving people out of shelter and into housing as quickly as possible; have robust assessment and diversion processes to most effectively use scarce shelter resources ….”

This is a section of the contract. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Quality of Life ordinance prohibits outdoor camping and the storage of personal property on public land. No enforcement of the ordinance can occur unless a deputy first gives the affected person an opportunity to relocate to another area, staff explained to the commissioners seated in November 2017, before they approved the measure.

Additionally, the ordinance provides that the deputy must determine that a shelter bed is available; the deputy must provide the individual — in writing — assurances that the person can get a bed, at no cost, and can be transported to the facility at no cost; the person does not have to be sober or agree to any mental health/substance abuse assistance; and the person will have “a reasonable amount of space for their personal property.”

As for illegal storage of personal property on county lands: A person is not charged if he or she removes items after receiving a warning. The ordinance also prohibits the destruction of any belongings “unless [they are] an immediate health hazard,” as defined by state law.

County staff would collect and store personal items that could not be accommodated at the shelter, staff noted during a presentation about the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance was a response to complaints that then-Commissioners Charles Hines and Alan Maio had heard from constituents about incidents in county parks and at other county facilities, with vagrants refusing to clean up their personal belongings and acting belligerently toward members of the public.

Nonetheless, Susan Pourciau, then the director of homeless training and technical assistance at the Florida Housing Coalition, had produced a report in early April 2017 — under contract with the City of Sarasota — that included the emergency shelter beds as a strategy to help homeless individuals in both the city and the county. Both the County and City commissions endorsed her report.