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County homeless consultant criticizes city plans

The city has embraced a “housing first” approach to addressing homelessness issues — sparking a harsh rebuke of the policy’s efficacy from consultant Robert Marbut.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. October 15, 2015
  • Sarasota
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After the city ended a collaborative effort to construct a come-as-you-are homeless shelter with the county, it’s pursued a solution that seeks to place homeless individuals in permanent housing as quickly as possible.

As the county continues to pursue a come-as-you-are shelter, city officials have pointed to “housing first” as the favored program for addressing homeless nationally.

On Oct. 6, county Homeless Services Director Wayne Applebee shared consultant Robert Marbut’s opinions on the effectiveness of housing first as a homelessness solution. Marbut argues communities that have followed that model are still dealing with homelessness problems.

Marbut, who endorsed a centrally located, 250-bed shelter within the city of Sarasota, shared a number of stories from Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Portland. Those communities have all adopted housing first programs, but the articles report lingering issues related to homelessness.

"Housing first is not a magic elixir." — Robert Marbut

Marbut writes that “housing first is not a magic elixir” and “has not sustainably dropped homelessness.” He also criticized the cost of creating the supportive housing units and the program's ability to reduce crime rates.

“In simple terms, there was a ton of great press about how good Housing First (is) starting in 2013 going through Spring 2015,” Marbut wrote in the memo, excerpted from his work for another community. “But because of the increasing numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness, and the increase of drug dealings and violence, most of the articles from May 2015 to date have been quite negative.”

City Commissioner Susan Chapman responded to Marbut’s criticism, pointing out the stories referenced do not speak to the efficacy of shelters as a solution.

“I read all of the articles,” Chapman wrote. “Not one supports Marbut’s plan.”

The city and county commissioners are scheduled to meet jointly to discuss homelessness Nov. 6. Doug Logan, the city’s homelessness director, said it’s ill-advised to try to paint one side’s approach as right and the other’s as wrong in advance of that meeting.

“Both the county and the city are composed of people of good heart who are trying to solve a problem,” Logan said. “I think issuing this missive is less than constructive in this time period leading up to the meeting.”

"I think issuing this missive is less than constructive in this time period leading up to the meeting." — Doug Logan

Logan said neither housing first nor a come-as-you-are shelter is the ultimate solution to the regional homelessness issue, and he hopes officials on both sides will be able to find some common ground. Despite Marbut’s message, Logan’s faith in housing first as a homeless solution isn’t wavering.

“There’s nothing that I’ve read — either from Dr. Marbut’s anecdotal editorializing or any of the articles that he’s quoted — that leads me to believe we aren’t following a correct and productive path.”


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