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People to Watch: Logan crafts strategy for addressing homelessness

City homelessness director Doug Logan believes Sarasota can make significant strides toward addressing a long-standing issue in 2016 — as long as politics don’t get in the way.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. January 7, 2016
Doug Logan, the city's homelessness director, plans to unveil a new organization focused on housing homeless individuals in early 2016.
Doug Logan, the city's homelessness director, plans to unveil a new organization focused on housing homeless individuals in early 2016.
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More than half a year after his controversial hiring, Doug Logan is feeling comfortable in his role overseeing the city’s effort to combat chronic homelessness.

Now, he’s just got to set a plan in motion for dealing with the long-standing regional issue that has divided city and county governments over the past two years.

The city hired Logan in June as its special initiatives director for chronic homeless. His resume included experience as the commissioner of Major League Soccer, but nothing dealing with housing or homelessness. As he weathered calls to defund his position, Logan went through an intensive course on a complex issue.

Today, he knows there’s still more to learn, but he’s confident in his ability to help the city address homelessness. His outsider status has enabled him to continually ask questions while searching for best practices.

“The worst thing you can do is the presumption, based on limited data, that you know things,” Logan said.

He quickly drilled down to discover what have become bedrock beliefs. First, that the best answer for addressing the issue is offering permanent supportive housing via a “housing first” philosophy. City officials have united behind this model, which seeks to stabilize homeless individuals by putting them in homes as quickly as possible.

His second discovery was that the city is lacking pieces of infrastructure that have enabled that type of programming in other places.

“I came to an awareness of how far behind we are,” Logan said. “We’re really far behind other communities of this size and this wealth of dealing with this issue.”

He said Sarasota has missed a fertile window for creating a successful housing program. The federal and state governments began embracing housing first at the end of the last decade, and the lull in the real estate market created a good environment for developing a robust housing stock.

As that market recovers — and major government funding dries up — the city faces a tougher challenge beginning its effort in 2016. Still, Logan isn’t pessimistic about the city’s ability to address homelessness considering the significant public interest in taking action.

“I cannot tell you on a daily basis how many people are vitally interested in, a) resolving the problem, and b) saying ‘What can I do?’” Logan said.

In the first quarter, Logan plans to help launch a private entity focused on housing chronically homeless individuals. He said government is ill-suited for addressing homelessness on its own. He believes a targeted nonprofit organization, using public and private funding, could work swiftly to provide housing.

“I see a very large light at the end of the tunnel,” Logan said.

Much of the conversation in Sarasota has focused on a debate over a come-as-you-are jail diversion facility — a model the county favors and the city has fought.

Logan is keenly aware of the political polarization surrounding homelessness in Sarasota. Although he compared the shelter philosophy to “buying into pager technology in a smartphone era,” he said there is a larger dialogue that must not be bogged down by one issue.

“Where the shelter — to me, at least — is only the beginning of a conversation, it has become the conversation to many,” Logan said.

Assuming the position at the end of his career, Logan believes he carries a perspective that keeps him from getting too high or too low as work progresses or stalls. He’s focusing on steadily advancing solutions that come with a proven track record. Combined with the community’s eagerness to address homelessness, he believes Sarasota can take significant steps forward in a short time on the issue.

“I am more enthusiastic about doing what I’m doing today than I was seven months ago,” Logan said. “And I’m really looking forward to the future, because I think we can make great inroads.”