A new taxing district to support mental and indigent healthcare, a new agency focused on creating affordable housing and a new county-wide tax on alcohol — these are just a few of the city’s proposals to substantively address homelessness issues in Sarasota.
At Saturday’s meeting of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, city homelessness director Doug Logan presented a preliminary overview of the city’s plan, to be discussed in greater detail at today’s City Commission meeting.
That plan is built around the city’s adopted “housing first” approach, which is guided by the idea that the most effective method for combatting homelessness is getting homeless individuals into housing as quickly as possible.
The city will propose the creation of a new joint agency, managed by the city and county and focused specifically on creating affordable housing in the region. According to backup material for today’s City Commission meeting, the new housing would be financed by “a combination of grants, philanthropy and a new county-wide tax on alcoholic beverages.”
In addition to permanent supportive housing for the housing-first program, Logan said the agency would focus on creating affordable workshop housing, as well.
“Basically, you’re creating supply in the two areas where the community needs it most,” Logan said.
The city will also propose the creation of a countywide indigent and mental health district, Logan said. A majority of county voters would need to approve of the establishment of the taxing district. The plan calls for the new district to provide health services currently paid for from the county’s general fund, including case managers for any shelter and support services in the housing-first units.
According to the backup material from today’s meeting, the county currently pays approximately $5 million per year for indigent and mental health services. Logan said funding a program to address homelessness issues has gotten more difficult over time, and he believes the mental health district would be a significant step forward.
“The federal and state grants available three, four, five years ago are starting to dry up,” Logan said. “We’ve got to get resourceful and we’ve got to get creative, and that’s the mission I’m on at the present time.”
In the coming weeks, staff plans to organize a workshop with leaders who have helped implement housing-first programs elsewhere throughout the state. The city and county commissions are scheduled to meet to discuss homelessness Nov. 6. As the city begins to earnestly begin its efforts to combat homelessness, Logan is confident officials are on the right track.
“This is an evidence-based plan that works,” Logan said. “It’s the one that we’re going with.”