Earlier this month, the County Commission drafted a letter to make sure it was still on the same page as the city regarding the pursuit of a regional come-as-you-are homeless shelter. In response to that letter, the City Commission revealed that it no longer was.
At its meeting Monday, commissioners voted to end their pursuit of a city-located shelter for homeless adults. The come-as-you-are shelter was the most contentious recommendation from consultant Robert Marbut, whom the city and county hired last year to address homelessness issues in the region.
With the potential sites for the shelter all turning up within city limits — a result of Marbut’s criteria that the shelter be centrally located to the jail and other service providers — the recommendation was opposed by many city residents as well as a portion of the City Commission. Still, the majority of the commission consistently voted to continue to pursue all of Marbut’s recommendations.
On Monday, commissioner Shannon Snyder — one of the three votes in support of Marbut’s plans — revealed he no longer believed a come-as-you-are shelter was the right solution for Sarasota’s homeless issues.
Snyder said there still needed to be a homeless jail diversion program in the area similar to the come-as-you-are Pinellas Safe Harbor in Pinellas County, but he feared a shelter that allowed people to come and go freely would attract an even larger homeless population from outside of the city.
“Having a come-as-you-are shelter is not what we need in the city of Sarasota,” Snyder said. “Allowing people to drop by whenever they get dropped off by someone other than law enforcement is not benefitting us.”
Suzanne Atwell, one of the other proponents of a come-as-you-are shelter, did not abandon her support for Marbut’s recommendations, but agreed it was necessary to put the conversation with the county on hold. Atwell said the city had become the target of undue criticism, and that a tentatively scheduled joint meeting between the city and county commissions in September would not be productive.
“I think we need to take a break,” Atwell said. “We've been on the defensive here a lot of times.”
Vice Mayor Susan Chapman, who along with Mayor Willie Shaw opposed the constructed of a shelter within the city, said that the city should be examining other options for addressing homelessness. She stressed the need for affordable housing, and said city had to address the influx of homeless people from out of town.
“We have learned: If you build it, they'll come,” Chapman said. “We have, in the city, been the recipient of a lot of the region's homeless and chronic homeless.”
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, another shelter supporter, said the city needed to be specific when communicating with the county about what it is and isn’t interested in pursuing. Snyder said the county should be able to pursue a regional shelter option on its own.
“I think the county will be able to determine their own need,” Snyder said.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].