The first recommendation in a draft of a long-awaited report by Robert Marbut, a consultant hired by Sarasota County and the city of Sarasota to address regional homelessness issues, has nothing to do with the hot-button topic of the location of a future shelter.
Instead, Marbut focused on a philosophical change above all else.
“The entire Sarasota County Community needs to move from a Culture of Enablement to a Culture of Engagement in all aspects,” Marbut wrote.
From service agencies to residents to the homeless themselves, Marbut said the region should focus on increasing street graduation rates, rather than serving the homeless. Handouts of food and money to people who are panhandling are well intentioned, Marbut said, but they only enable homelessness. Donations of food and money should instead be directed to high-performing service agencies, he wrote.
Marbut later gets to the recommendation likely to generate the most attention: a 24/7 emergency homeless shelter, tenatively named Sarasota Safe Harbor, that would be the main intake location for homeless individuals in the county. The report states the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office should serve as the lead agency in coordinating the shelter, which would become the center of county homelessness services.
“All adult services county-wide should ‘spoke off’ of this main hub,” the report states. “Once operational, all county-wide street feeding programs, food pantry programs and day-time service centers for adult homeless men and women need to be relocated within the (shelter).”
He outlines four “optimal and available” sites for the shelter, all of which are located just north of downtown Sarasota. The report lists a 2.14-acre city-owned lot at 1330 N. Osprey Ave. as the “best overall viable location,” with the potential to expand to include a UPS-owned property at 1530 N. Osprey Ave.
Other optimal and available sites named are located at 1003 N. Washington Blvd., 1121 Lewis Ave., and 1800 East Ave. Six other sites are listed as “possibly viable and/or possibly available,” all of which are located in the city of Sarasota, and all but one of which is located north of 10th Street.
Two city commissioners, Susan Chapman and Vice-Mayor Willie Shaw, have been outspoken in the past about their opposition to a shelter within the city of Sarasota. Shaw, in particular, has said he thinks the north Sarasota district he represents shouldn't be burdened with a homeless shelter. In his report, Marbut suggests officials and residents should move beyond the instinct to say "Not In My Back Yard."
"The main goal is to pick the site that is in the best overall interest of Sarasota and one that promotes the operational success of Sarasota Safe Harbor," the report states. "The hope is the site selection will not get bogged down by NIMBY’ism nor political rivalries."
Other recommendations included in the report are an emergency intake portal for families with children in both North and South County; two different master case management systems for adults and families with children; and a standardization of homeless ordinances throughout the county. The full draft report can be found on the city website.
Marbut will formally present the draft report on Monday at County Commission meetings at 9 a.m. in Venice and 2 p.m. in Sarasota. The former will be a joint meeting with the North Port City Commission and Venice City Council, and the latter will be a joint meeting with the Sarasota City Commission.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].