‘Where we’ve been; where we are’: County reaching out to the city on homelessness issues

County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, a former city commissioner, will attend the Feb. 2 DID board session

(From left) Commissioners Paul Caragiulo, Al Maio and Charles Hines. Rachel Hackney photo
(From left) Commissioners Paul Caragiulo, Al Maio and Charles Hines. Rachel Hackney photo

The Sarasota County commissioners this week formally appointed their fellow board member, Paul Caragiulo, to attend the City of Sarasota’s Downtown Improvement District (DID) meeting on Feb. 2, where he is scheduled to talk about ongoing efforts to build a come-as-you-are shelter for chronically homeless individuals.

Caragiulo, who served as a city commissioner from 2011 to 2014, offered at the County Commission’s Jan. 12 session to attend an upcoming DID meeting to offer the county’s support on homelessness issues and learn the DID members feelings about the current situation downtown.

One important — and intensely debated — element of the ongoing conversation on regional homelessness has been the come-as-you-are shelter.

The DID meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, in the SRQ Media Studio, which is on the first floor of the City Hall Annex at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota. According to the agenda, Caragiulo’s presentation is titled, Where we’ve been; where we are. It will be directly followed by a City of Sarasota update on homelessness.

In a letter drafted by County Administrator Tom Harmer and signed by County Commission Chair Al Maio this week, county officials explain the reasoning behind the presentation before the DID board.

“During the [commission’s Jan. 12] discussion, it was apparent that the role of the Downtown Improvement District is vital in moving forward on the adult homeless issue,” reads the letter, dated Jan. 26. “The County Commission has appointed Paul Caragiulo to represent us at meetings of the DID with the hope of continuing to explore a common path for the implementation of effective solutions for the adult chronic homeless.”

The letter also restated the county board members’ belief regarding the location of a shelter:

“The Sarasota County Commission remains committed to the CAYA [come-as-you-are shelter] concept but, to be effective, [the facility] must be located in proximity to the homeless population. Otherwise, as a voluntary program, it will not attract the individuals it is intended to serve.”

The city and county remain locked in a long-standing debate over not just the location but also the size and function of a shelter.

Buck's is located on Myrtle Street in Sarasota. File photo
Bucko’s is located on Myrtle Street in Sarasota. File photo

County leaders have long strived to establish a facility for about 250 individuals, and they say it needs to be near the city core, where current services for the homeless are located, along with a large population of homeless individuals. Meanwhile, city officials have largely opposed the effort to place a shelter in the city. As an alternative, they are emphasizing a strategy to build or retrofit housing units for homeless people. That initiative has become a priority for the City Commission.

Most recently, on Jan. 12, the county pulled back from its efforts to purchase a potential site for the shelter in north Sarasota, just outside the city limits. Given a difference of more than $420,000 between Sarasota County’s appraisal of the Bucko’s store site on Myrtle Street and an appraisal conducted by the owner — plus a projected expense of more than $1 million to extend water and sewer services to the property — the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to end negotiations on that parcel, as well as two others near it.

Step in the right direction

Eileen Hampshire, who serves as chair of the DID and who has attended most of the downtown group’s meetings since the district was formed in 2008, told The Sarasota News Leader on Jan. 28 that she did not know of any previous occasions when a county commissioner appeared before the group.

Hampshire said the issue of chronic homelessness is a significant one that demands attention, and the search for the best answers necessitates a collaborative effort. “It is not easy, but if there is a will to solve it, it can be solved,” Hampshire added of the county’s situation. “I don’t know what our role in it will be or [the county commissioners’] role will be. That will be seen at the meeting.”

Hampshire noted that Caragiulo’s presentation could be “a step in the right direction,” adding, “Let’s see if we can make something positive out of it.”

The DID chair also told the News Leader she is looking forward to Caragiulo’s remarks.“ He served on the City Commission, and he knows us. Perhaps he is a good representative to see both sides.”

Other options

Although the board nixed the north Sarasota sites, Sarasota County staff members are still keeping an eye out for potential locations and pursuing other options, as directed by the County Commission at the Jan. 12 meeting.

County Administrator Tom Harmer. File photo
County Administrator Tom Harmer. File photo

The board members requested that County Administrator Tom Harmer and staff conduct further research and then submit a report to them after new information becomes available. The commissioners also asked that Harmer initiate communication with the City of Sarasota regarding the homeless issue/shelter.

One such potential site close to Interstate 75, on Packinghouse Road, was pointed out by longtime commercial Realtor Tim Mapp in a Jan. 19 email to the county commissioners. The 3-plus acres are at 983 Packinghouse Road and 997 Paschal Place.

“The attached property is being submitted to you as a possibility for either the Homeless shelter or Jail property that the County has been looking at acquiring for quite some time,” Mapp wrote in his email. “I believe this would be a perfect location in that it will be close to the [Sarasota County] Sheriff’s new training facility [planned for county property on Cattlemen Road] and also the close proximity to the large [Sarasota County Area Transit bus] depot [on Cattlemen]. This property is not close to any residential community which will alleviate any opposition by the community.”

The parcel, however, was not discussed during the County Commission meetings this week, and it is unclear whether the board members would be willing to add the site, located well east of the city, to their list of options.

In November, the board turned down a suggestion by City Manager Tom Barwin that the shelter be built on the county-owned property at 1301 Cattleman Road, where the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office training facility will be placed. That property is less than half a mile from the Packinghouse Road parcel.

An aerial view shows the parcel at 983 Packinghouse Road. Image from Google Maps
An aerial view shows the parcel at 983 Packinghouse Road marked with a red balloon. Image from Google Maps