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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 5 years ago

Our View: How to fight vagrants: privatize


Everywhere you go in downtown Sarasota, the subject of “the homeless” surfaces.

It’s really bad.

A Second Street business owner told us last week that after our call he was going to retrieve a shovel to clean up the piles of human excrement in a partially enclosed area behind his building. A couple of “homeless” use it as their personal commode.

This wasn’t the first time for the shovel.

This issue is out of control.

The business owner lamented that he tried to persuade city officials to adopt sensible rules about vagrancy, but to no avail. “Do you know someone cannot be arrested if he’s sleeping behind my building unless he is covering himself with a blanket?” the owner said. “He has to be using a blanket.

“Well, they all know this,” he said. “If they need to cover themselves, they use a jacket or a shirt. You can’t arrest them.”

Apparently, even if Sarasota is dubbed “the meanest city” in America, it’s not mean enough. It needs to get meaner.

This is the No. 1 issue in downtown Sarasota. It’s one of safety (for law-abiding residents) and economics. It’s already hurting downtown businesses. And the word and reputation is spreading. A member of the St. Armands Circle Association board forwarded to all of his fellow board members last week a copy of our Aug. 23 story about aggressive vagrants. “If this happens to the Circle,” he wrote, “we will have a huge challenge.” The problem is already spreading to Siesta Key.

Think of it this way: The product we sell is our destination. If the product is flawed (i.e. too many aggressive vagrants), customers will go elsewhere.

There probably is no quick fix to this. But one approach to making Five Points Park and the Selby Library less infested with the undesirables is New York City’s model for Central and Bryant Parks: privatize them.
Bryant Park was similar to Five Points Park in the early to mid-1990s. Then along came Dan Biederman. He raised private funds from businesses around the park, real-estate owners, concessions and events sponsorships. A private venture runs and maintains the park. And as such, it’s easier to kick an offender off of private property. The park hasn’t cost the city a dime since 1996.

A private, non-profit charity manages Central Park. Crime is far below what it was before the charity took over.

What a travesty: A business owner needs a shovel at his office to scoop up human poop.

+ Trump towers
Our Democratic Party readers likely will gag at any mention of the Republican Party of Sarasota County awarding Donald Trump “Statesman of the Year” Sunday night, at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.

Regardless, you have to give kudos to GOP-Sarasota Chairman Joe Gruters. Persuading Trump to come here at this moment in the election campaign was one smart move. Trump may not exactly be what you envision as a statesman, but he did just what Gruters hoped: drew a record audience (more than 1,000) and money into the party.

At one point, Gruters said he hoped to raise $7,500 that night to erect three “Repeal Obama” billboards to replace the one vandals destroyed about 10 days ago. In a matter of two minutes or so, Sarasota entrepreneur Jesse Biter, during his short speech, had pledges for six billboards. All night the room was electrified. Trump jazzed up the audience even more. Gruters couldn’t have hoped for more.

But while Trump lobbed predictable and welcome criticisms of the current president, the most telling moment of the night was the invocation by the Rev. Fausto Stampiglia, pastor of St. Martha Catholic Church. Stampiglia took a stand — making explicit reference to the administration’s infringements on religious freedom and asking God to bring this nation “R&R … Romney and Ryan.” When a priest is that definitive, that’s a powerful, telling sign.

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