To protest what he called Vice Mayor Terry Turner’s changes of position on feeding the homeless, downtown resident and radio show host Phil Grande chartered a bus, filled it with homeless people and catered a dinner for them Tuesday evening.
The dinner was held directly in front of Turner’s home in the tony Cherokee Park neighborhood.
Grande has been an opponent of the homeless feedings in Selby Five Points Park, wanting to move them instead to other parts of town.
Turner also had been opposed, but Grande said at a recent one-on-one meeting, the vice mayor changed his position and said he would no longer seek to require city permits for small feedings.
“Turner flip-flopped,” said Thomas Biggs, senior producer of Grande’s radio show. “He said it’s OK to feed at certain locations. So Phil said Turner’s street could be one of those certain locations.”
Grande did not attend the stunt, and it was not clear whether Turner was home. Nobody answered a knock on his door.
Biggs said Grande’s goal was also to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness in Sarasota.
“Phil offered to buy the former Dream Center (on 18th Street), turn it into a homeless shelter and gathering place and sell it to the city for $1,” said Biggs, who added the city turned down the offer.
Grande told Resurrection House and Salvation Army he was going to provide transportation and food to anyone interested.
About 40 homeless were shuttled on a charter bus to Cherokee Drive, and they sat in a city-owned median until a Sonny’s Bar-B-Q truck arrived at about 6:30 p.m. with a complete meal for the crowd.
Some of the homeless people there said they wanted people to know they were just like everyone else.
“I felt like I’d have the chance to talk about the homeless situation,” said Leon Middleton, 58.
When told why the Cherokee Drive location was chosen for the feeding, a man who said his name was Joseph laughed, but then added, “It’s not going to work. It won’t send a message.”
This was the second time this week that Grande sent a group of homeless to set up shop in front of Turner’s house.
Monday, he paid for bus fare and food for five homeless people to go to Cherokee Drive.
Someone called police to report suspicious people on the street. When police arrived, the group of people walked away.
Biggs said Grande was planning to bus another group of homeless people Friday to an undetermined location. He said Grande was not currently targeting any other city commissioners.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].