Latest data show continued success in efforts to help the homeless in the county
In December 2020, members of the Continuum of Care (CoC) for Sarasota and Manatee counties — whose agencies provide services for the homeless — expressed dismay over comments that a former national consultant made about the state of homelessness in the area during a November forum.
They especially criticized Robert Marbut for making his assessment by driving through parts of the city of Sarasota.
On the first Monday of the New Year — Jan. 4 — the CEO of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, which is the lead agency for the CoC, appeared before the Sarasota City Commission to recognize Vice Mayor Erik “E” Arroyo for joining the Suncoast Partnership’s Board of Directors.
Arroyo was the individual who organized the Nov. 24, 2020 town hall with Marbut, whom the City and County commissions hired in late summer of 2013 to assess the homelessness situation in the community and then offer recommendations on how to improve it.
In opening the town hall, Arroyo indicated his hope that the session would provide “actionable items that the city and county can take to help reduce our transient homeless population.”
Arroyo was elected to the City Commission on Nov. 3, 2020.
During his Jan. 4 remarks to the city commissioners, Suncoast Partnership CEO Chris Johnson thanked Arroyo for his willingness to serve on the nonprofit’s board.
Then Johnson said he wanted to provide the commissioners figures that reflected the work of the Continuum of Care. He apologized for the fact that the data reflect all of Sarasota County and that he was unable to break out numbers just for the city. Nonetheless, he said, “It is a good representation of what is happening in Sarasota.”
“As of right now,” Johnson continued, “365 people that have taken part” in the CoC’s coordinated entry system process, which tracks all the services homeless individuals receive in the county. Additionally, Johnson said, 274 of those individuals “are actively seeking services,” so they can find permanent housing. Of those, Johnson noted, about 68% were aided by the Rapid Re-Housing program in the community.
“We had about 405 new access points for the first time” in the Coordinated Entry System, he pointed out, with 163 of those identified as persons who never had sought help before through the CoC. “That tells me we have a great engagement [with the homeless],” Johnson said. “That fact is actually a testament to the [Homeless Outreach Teams in the city and the county].”
Both the Sarasota Police Department and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office field teams that include officers as well as civilian case managers who talk with homeless persons and try to encourage them to accept help, so the homeless individuals can transition into housing.
Moreover, Johnson noted that the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, based in Venice, will provide the nonprofit funding to secure additional housing for homeless persons.
Johnson also voiced excitement about the planned groundbreaking on Jan. 13 of the Lofts on Lemon, a project of the Sarasota Housing Authority.
To be located at 851 N. Lemon Ave. in the city of Sarasota, “This unique community development is unlike any housing project across the country,” a city news release pointed out. “Designed to ensure downtown Sarasota has affordable and attainable workforce housing, [Lofts on Lemon] has received funding from a variety of private, community, business, and government financial support,” the release added.
The diverse team of funders encompassed the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the City of Sarasota, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Bank of America, Freddie Mac, Walker & Dunlop, the Sarasota Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), the news release explained. The development team consists of the Sarasota Housing Authority and Fortis Development, with the design led by Sarasota-based Hoyt Architects, the release noted.
“Lofts on Lemon is a showcase of broad community support for affordable and workforce housing,” said Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA) CEO William Russell in the release. “For [the] two foundations and the City to partner with SHA on this type of community building investment is unique and makes a powerful statement about what Sarasota can achieve,” Russell added in the release.
The City of Sarasota is contributing $3 million in penny sales tax funds toward the Lofts on Lemon project, the release noted.
“The City Commission is firmly committed to supporting housing that meets the needs of our growing city,” said Mayor Hagen Brody in the release. “We’re especially thrilled that this project will help make attainable housing more accessible in downtown Sarasota for our ‘hometown heroes’ — the teachers, health care workers and first responders who serve our community every day.”
Construction of the $33-million Lofts on Lemon community is estimated for completion in mid-2022, the release pointed out. When it has been completed, the release continued, it will feature 76 affordable and 52 attainable workforce units.
During his Jan. 4 remarks to the City Commission Johnson of the Suncoast Partnership encouraged the city commissioners to visit the Suncoast Partnership’s website to take a look at the data for the 2020 fiscal year.
That “dashboard” says the goal for 2020 was to find permanent positive outcomes for 1,000 people from all projects the CoC supports, and the total ended up being 1,009. Of those, 271 persons were considered to have the greatest need for such assistance.
Further, the percentage of persons placed in Permanent Supportive Housing or Rapid Re-Housing who remained in their homes was 83%; the goal was 85%.
The percentage of those in such housing in 2020 who saw their income climb was 35%; the goal was 30%, the chart noted.
Additionally, the average number of days between when a homeless individual was identified for a move into Rapid Re-Housing and the date for that move was 83; the goal was fewer than 60 days, the chart showed.
A note with the chart indicates the COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge to the CoC in terms of delivery of services. Still, the report points out that the CoC’s goals for 2020 “were only slightly lower” than the outcomes in the 2019 fiscal year, “which is a testament to the providers in our system who remained dedicated to serving those across our community through these unprecedented times.
Along with Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Re-Housing, the CoC’s projects are outreach, diversion of homeless persons from jail, and moving individuals off the street into emergency shelter.
Fire Department’s tracking of transports of the homeless
In related information, the Sarasota County Fire Department has launched a new system for reporting its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) transports of homeless individuals for medical care, county staff told The Sarasota News Leader in late December 2020.
That dashboard shows that the Fire Department handled 6.44% fewer calls for help involving homeless persons in 2020, compared to 2019. The number of transports to medical facilities fell 16.4% from 2019 to 2020, the dashboard notes.
The month in 2020 with the biggest drop in calls for service, compared to the same month for 2019, was October. In October 2020, the total was 157, which was 23.79% lower than the figure of 206 in October 2019.
December 2020 was in second place, with a decline of 20.69% in the number of incidents, compared to the figure for December 2019.
Only four months in 2020 had higher numbers of total incidents than the same months in 2019. Those were January, March, May and June.
Of those, March 2020 had the highest climb. In March 2019, the incidents totaled 208; in March 2020, the figure was 228, an uptick of 9.62%. However, that was still a drop from the 236 total recorded in March 2018, the data show.
March typically is when the county population is at its height, thanks to tourism and the return of seasonal residents.
All of the transport figures for 2020 were down, compared to the numbers for each month in 2019, another chart says. The month with the biggest drop was April, when EMS crews took 94 people to a medical facility. That compared to 135 people in April 2019, resulting in a month-over-month drop of 30.37%.
August 2020 had the second highest decline — 26.14%. While EMS crews took 153 homeless individuals to a medical facility in August 2019, they transported only 113 in August 2020.
The highest number of transports for any month in 2020 was June, with 147. That figure compared to 156 in June 2019. In June 2018, the number was 169.
July 2020 was in second place, with 145 transports, but that was a 17.14% decline from the July 2019 number, 175. In July 2018, the figure was 210.