The Sarasota Ministerial Association (SMA) this week is reporting progress in its attempt to reach an amicable solution regarding the controversial homeless feedings in Selby Five Points Park.
The SMA approached city officials along with business leaders and groups in July in an attempt to serve as a facilitator for residents who live near the park. SMA President and Goodwill Industries of Sarasota Chaplain Tom Pfaff said that during its Aug. 24 regular meeting, the SMA approved the discussions being held with all the parties focused on the matter.
“The association affirmed our progress, and we are now identifying organizations providing care (feedings) in the downtown area … to establish a dialogue with them,” Pfaff said.
Pfaff estimates at least 10 organizations or individuals feed the homeless in the area on a somewhat regular basis. “We need to find point persons for all of these groups and hold an informal luncheon with all of them,” Pfaff said.
Residents in the Five Points Park area also have agreed to meet with him and others in September, he said, in an attempt to diffuse the tension that has existed since residents expressed concern that the feedings created safety issues.
Downtown residents have objected to the large number of homeless who loiter in the park after the feedings and begin drinking, doing drugs, fighting and panhandling.
“What I have been pleased to discover is the residents are not saying the feedings are absolutely horrible,” Pfaff said. “They are saying they want to work with us to find out the best way to keep our community safe and beautiful. That’s the attitude we need to move forward in a positive manner.”
Pfaff has noted that SMA was organized in 2001 to address concerns residents and business owners had with groups feeding the homeless in the community.
Pfaff approached Mayor Suzanne Atwell and City Manager Bob Bartolotta in July to discuss SMA’s latest offer of help. It’s the goal of the SMA to report its findings to the Sarasota City Commission by the end of the year.
“I’m very optimistic we can reach a solution that keeps our downtown beautiful and allows the care of our area’s homeless to be (handled) appropriately,” Pfaff said.
Pfaff is also working with Sandy Gallagher, manager of St. Martha Catholic Church’s Bethesda House.
“There are those that think they should open up shop there and feed the homeless, and there are those that think we should be supporting local shelters in the area that already feed the homeless,” Pfaff said.