When the city of Sarasota announced it had hired a new director to manage homeless initiatives, the selection drew raised eyebrows from many people. Doug Logan has an extensive resume — CEO for US Track & Field, commissioner of Major League Soccer — but none of his experience related directly to homelessness issues.
Although the city manager has defended Logan amid criticism, at least one city commissioner, Susan Chapman, has gone out of her way to publicly clarify that she wasn’t responsible for the hire. Still, Logan is unfazed by the rocky reception, and is committed to showing Sarasota that he’s the right man for the job. We spoke with Logan about his experience, his interest in the job and his approach to a longstanding issue in the community.
How would you describe your job to someone unfamiliar with the position?
Fundamentally, my understanding of my job is — the City Commission, several months ago, adopted an eight-point plan to address an issue that the community has been hashing and rehashing for probably 25 or 30 years. I've lived here on and off for the past 24, 25, and every time I pick up a paper, there's something new regarding the homeless — so we continue to talk about it. The city has adopted this plan. In some areas, it's very specific. In other areas, it's very vague. My long explanation is, I'm here to put some flesh on the bones, so to speak, with regard to those areas where it's vague, and commence with an action plan.
What about this position made it something you were interested in?
I have a friend who I had coffee with. She said she was absolutely shocked when she read I had agreed to take this job, because she had had a conversation with me about three months ago. I was so happy — about my teaching at NYU, the writing I was doing and how comfortable my family was. And, all of a sudden, this seemed like an abrupt departure from that. I hit a certain part in my life where I think I still have the abilities — a certain amount of wisdom, a certain amount of experience — that I can bring to bear on topics that are of social and moral interest to me. This is one of them. I think I can, perhaps, approach the problems we can face from a different perspective, but with a track record of having made progress in some difficult situations. That's what caused me to throw my hat in the ring. This is my opportunity to give back.
I think I still have the abilities — a certain amount of wisdom, a certain amount of experience — that I can bring to bear on topics that are of social and moral interest to me.
There's been some criticism about your lack of experience in this field. What would you say to someone who says you don't know what you’re doing?
Some would probably say the same thing to (homelessness consultant Robert) Marbut. Marbut comes from a sports background. He was a sports administrator — we were both CEOs of a national governing body. He was, on two occasions, president of the San Antonio Spurs. How does that give him street cred? The reality is, to stimulate a project like this, I think it requires perhaps more of a generalist than the public is actually looking for. We have plenty of specialists here in town, plenty of people who are incredibly grounded in the social services. This is going to require someone who has taken resources — intellectual resources, governmental, faith-based group resources — and meld them together to achieve an objective. I would suggest I’ve had that experience.
The city manager has talked about how fundraising will be a particular priority of yours. How will you go about that duty?
Raising money requires having a viable project. Nobody ever raised money on three or four sentences of words. Nobody really raised money on an eight-point plan that was adopted by a commission. People raise money on having a viable, attractive objective to achieve some goals. The reality is: Some thirty years ago, we as a society decided we were going to try to save some money by shutting down some governmental institutions that were nurturing to the less advantaged in the public. We never, ever created the safety net to take care of the people we put out there on the street. We're still suffering from this grievous error that we made back then.
There are some hardcore cases that are going to require some hardcore solutions.
What have you been able to do in your first weeks on the job?
I am doing more than getting the lay of the land. I'm having serious conversations with the stakeholders in this issue. I’ve actually cast a net far wider than that, for people who haven't traditionally been asked to contribute ideas or contribute their views on that. I’m meeting with them, asking a whole lot of questions. Without getting too detail-oriented, it appears to me that there are two strategies that need to be employed. One is a short-term strategy, small ball. Taking the existing institutions that are here, maximizing their efficiencies, trying to create a cohesive whole of all of them. Each of them — the nonprofits, the faith-based organizations — has got a little piece of the pie, and there are some things that fall through the cracks. We’re going to be creating some sort of immediate solutions.
The reality is, we have some 400 people who are categorized as chronic homeless, who have been out on the streets for an average of more than four years. There are some hardcore cases that are going to require some hardcore solutions. I am going to be charged by my masters with designing, creating and then implementing a pipeline — to take them off the street and put them in homes. The focus on the eight-point plan is on housing first. That's a costly endeavor to put together, but a necessary one. While I am looking at making the existing norms more efficient, I'm also looking for that home run ball that is going to take not weeks, not months but years to put in place correctly.