As early as January, the city of Sarasota and the Salvation Army could be collaborating on a new program designed to help members of the homeless population find gainful employment.
Called Street Teams, the concept is modeled on a program that has been under way since January 2009 in Daytona Beach.
During the City Commission’s special meeting Monday, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, Vice Mayor Terry Turner said he recently had discussed Street Teams with Salvation Army officials in Sarasota.
“(They) have a very disciplined approach to helping people,” he said.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo also had talked with Salvation Army General Manager Bryan Pope, he said.
“It is a remarkable program … there’s quite a lot of literature out there that shows how effective it really is,” he said.
In an interview with the Observer, David Sutton, the Salvation Army’s Sarasota director of programs and facilities, said he first learned of Street Teams during a conference a couple of years ago. Last year, he said, he traveled to Daytona Beach to see first-hand how it operates.
In Sarasota, each Street Team would be composed of 10 men who would work four hours every morning, five days a week, picking up trash, cleaning the streets and undertaking other chores under the direction of the city’s Public Works Department, Sutton said. The goal, he said, “is to help people who are capable of work” and provide them a safe environment in which to work.
“They have to be clean and sober and willing to work a program” such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Sutton said.
The Salvation Army would house and feed the Street Teams participants, Sutton said. Regarding city funding, he said the Salvation Army was seeking just enough money to cover the cost of providing those services.
Turner suggested Monday that $50,000 a year in Community Redevelopment Agency funds could be awarded for each of the next two years to Street Teams.
“It’s not a very expensive program,” he said. “I think this is a very high priority use for (CRA funds).”
Caragiulo agreed with Turner about funding a local program for two years to see how effective it would be in helping the homeless get off the streets. Moreover, he said, the Salvation Army would be able to track the program’s effectiveness.
“I’m in favor of trying to help people,” Commissioner Shannon Snyder said. However, if a homeless person were given several opportunities to participate in the program and refused, Snyder said, a judge should have that information in determining the handling of a case if the person were arrested.
Later, Snyder said he would be comfortable with putting as much as $80,000 a year from CRA funds into the program.
“I think this is fabulous,” Mayor Suzanne Atwell said, adding that she also had talked with Sutton about the program. “What a great way to start this … because the hue and cry in the community is we’ve got to do something … We’re finally going to do something about this.”
The City Commission Monday directed staff to present a formal proposal to it for the program.
“I think there’s no doubt that there’s five votes there for it,” Turner told the Observer after the meeting. “I’d be surprised if there wasn’t something up and running by the start of season,” he said. “It’s my strongly held hope.”
City Manager Bob Bartolotta told the Observer Tuesday that he felt that timetable was “probably doable … I think if we try to shoot for having it up and running by January, that is realistic.”
The real challenge for many homeless people, Sutton said, is that those past the age of 40 or 45 with no clear work record find it almost impossible to land jobs.
“They have an uphill battle,” he said. The Street Teams program, he said, “would give them an opportunity to move forward.”
He added: “When they get out and do something physical, they get reorganized emotionally, physically and mentally.”
In Daytona Beach, 38% of the people in the program are able to find other employment and leave homelessness behind them, Sutton said.
The Salvation Army already has staff and programs in place that will enable it to identify potential Street Teams members, he said. “I know all the homeless (in the city),” Sutton said. “I see them every day” in the Salvation Army’s cafeteria. I’m going to look for people who are actually trying to help themselves.”
Not knowing whether the City Commission would be willing to pursue the program, Sutton said he already had been seeking support from the district office for the Salvation Army looking into the possibility of grants. However, he said, without the city’s support, “(the start of the program) probably would be delayed.”
Sutton added that the Sarasota Ministerial Association was scheduled to discuss Street Teams during its meeting this week.