Sarasota city and county commissioners both agreed to continue searching for a site to house a regional come-as-you-are homeless shelter Monday, but the proceeding dialogue painted a much less harmonious picture between the two groups.
Both boards opted not to pursue the sites under consideration, ones homelessness consultant Robert Marbut outlined as top choices, citing concerns about projected construction costs around $9 million each. Still, both county and city commissioners said they believed the city — particularly city administration and staff — was at least partially to blame for a process that has turned up no mutually acceptable sites.
Throughout the meeting, a majority of the County Commission indicated a frustration at the course the shelter search process had taken on the city’s end. County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said he was no longer interested in working with the city until it presented a shelter site that it deemed acceptable; he moved to indefinitely cease county staff’s involvement in the search process.
“I have no faith this thing is going to continue forward,” Barbetta said. “(The county) has done everything we possibly can.”
Although the majority of the County Commission eventually agreed to continue searching for a site, other commissioners also took aim at the city for its actions following the joint hiring of Marbut. Commissioner Christine Robinson targeted City Manager Tom Barwin, accusing him of obstructing the process despite the fact that a majority of the City Commission voted to move forward with Marbut’s recommendations.
In a memo prepared for Monday’s meeting, Barwin criticized Marbut for failing to consider tailoring his recommendations to better address worries city residents, staff and some commissioners voiced.
“City staff has expressed concerns that Dr. Marbut’s criteria did not take into consideration any city criteria,” Barwin wrote. “Dr. Marbut’s criteria is too limiting and threatens to risk creating an additional burden on city government, densely populated neighborhoods and the increasingly busy downtown commerce district.”
Robinson bristled at the idea that specific city criteria needed to be considered in addition to Marbut’s recommendations. She said that, because the majority of both commissions agreed to follow Marbut’s plan, city staff had no authority to suggest other factors should be taken into consideration.
“At some point, this path has to change,” Robinson said. “And it lies with the city to make that change.”
Barwin called the characterization of his remarks misleading. He said that his comments referred to the initial period after which Marbut was retained, before his recommendations were formalized and adopted by both commissions. After that point, he said, city staff has been accommodating in reviewing sites Marbut and the county outlined.
“Once the commission approved his recommendations, we did everything we could to move as quickly as possible,” Barwin said.
Barwin said the city played no role in the higher-than-expected prices associated with building at the two favored sites. Homelessness is a complex and multifaceted issue, Barwin said, which requires careful planning to address. Rather than focus on who said what, he wanted both municipalities to focus on how to tackle the core issue.
“This is what we have to get beyond here,” Barwin said. “It’s wasted energy trying to find a local fall guy.”
Vice Mayor Susan Chapman, an opponent of a city-located come-as-you-are shelter, said she didn’t believe the city manager’s input was out of line. She also took issue with the idea the city was interfering with the location of an acceptable site, considering the reluctance of the county to consider sites outside of the city limits.
“If there are any NIMBYs in this, it’s the county,” Chapman said.
Commissioners Paul Caragiulo and Shannon Snyder, frequent critics of Barwin, both took issue with the city manager’s memo. Unless other commissioners begin to share his stance on Barwin, Snyder said, it’s a moot point.
“There’s not two more votes that would vote to get rid of him,” Snyder said. “That’s the kind of government this commission is supporting.”
Now, both city and county staff will look for an acceptable site. They’ll expand their search out of the city limits while still attempting to adhere to Marbut’s recommendation for a shelter located near downtown services. The boards will reconvene in September to discuss the status of their work and any new sites staff has identified.
Commissioners and residents on both sides of the shelter debate may have been exasperated after the four-hour discussion, but if any consensus emerged, it was that something needed to be done to address the issues stemming from homelessness in the region.
“Doing nothing is certainly not an option,” City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said. ‘This is where we are. Let’s just keep working toward it.”
Contact David Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org
Currently 3 Responses
- Have to concur with Mr. Orlando.To spend millions on the hard-core homeless who prefer the life they lead and work the systems to their benefit is stupid. Giving them each free housing would be much cheaper—but it needs to be a county-wide effort. Looks as if the county was putting the city up as a sucker who would get the vagrants from all over the county and be left with footing an enormous bill. Offer food, minimal housing, second-hand clothes, and services for them somewhere centrally in the county and they likely would relocate. Most importantly if you want these vagrants out of your area, stop feeding them, stop giving them handouts of food, money, or clothes. Most of these already have an income that they reserve for their addictions. Why should we supply the things they really should be paying for? They will gravitate to wherever those freebies are... It is the families and people who have just gone homeless that will change their lives with our help. That is where to concentrate the available funds and services.
- There are different types of homeless: Hard working family people that have lost jobs, mentally ill people, addicts, and Vagrants (or Bums) that have no interest in working, know how to work the system to survive. Since Florida's climate is nice, they come from all states. This is a US Government problem and should be handled through Federal channels.
- I was appalled at the contempt shown for our City Manager by the several County Commissioners. I'm sure their plan to rule with an iron fist by capturing a Strong Mayor seat is not going to make it to the ballot. Along with a defeat in North Port and now a rebuke of Marbut's insistance that the CAYA has to be downtown are a handful of bitter pills. Tough. Their premise on the location of the shelter is faulty at best.
The reality is that while it would take $100 Million dollars to relocate all of the services agencies that touch the lives of those without housing to I-75, no one has to do that. If the Commissioners had hired a Human Service/Health consultant rather than a political operative with a degree in International Politics or something like that, they would have been told that outposting personnel to a remote location for clinics or on a more permanent basis is a common practice and usually costs the hosting agency little more than space and a desk. Essentially a zero sum game. Eleven of Robert Marbut's twelve principles have already been implimented. Shelters for families and children are being put into place. Why is this process reduced to chastizing Tom Barwin for the one Marbut point that has not fully materialized in the manner at the location he desired?
The fact that his franchise McMarbut CAYA operation is being so opposed shows that Tom Barwin is right. Marbut performed no assessments and his criteria development for the CAYA did not include the neighbors or merchants and frankly, in most places, that would have been grounds for his discharge instead.
No wonder there is so much speculation regarding the real motives of those who insist that the CAYA be placed downtown. I think Susan Chapman might be right. Many vested interests would rather see the homeless downtown than in shelters and low income villages constructed near Town Center.
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