Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Leap Forward in Handling the Homeless

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Leap Forward in Handling the Homeless

Article excerpt

Last time Sarasota police showed up in force on Florida Avenue to do something about all the homeless people camped on the sidewalk, I criticized the after-midnight sweep.

It was inconsiderate, unplanned and pointless.

So I'm glad to say that this time, police are doing it right. On their visit to the homeless on Wednesday morning, the task force had a plan; they waited until daylight, and every officer involved seemed to be trying out for a role as Officer Friendly.

Chief Bernadette DiPino was quick to say that's just the start. But it was a big improvement.

Two months ago, I took the chief to task because, without warning, her officers rousted 20 "illegal campers" from that same sidewalk and walked them to the Salvation Army at 2 a.m.

Better than being hauled to jail, but what did that surprise night of harassment gain?

Nothing. The Salvation Army's lone man on late-night duty had to scramble with so many unexpected guests. Though police were tackling a problem spot that had been obvious for weeks, they hadn't made so much as a call-ahead before the surprise arrival, let alone shared an action plan with Salvation Army administrators.

That's because there was no plan. And the next day, everyone was back on the same sidewalk.

No wonder. The Florida Avenue campers are generally happy to eat free meals at the Salvation Army, but are unwelcome to stay there most nights unless they pay. That's because they have been unable or unwilling to put up with the rules of its residential self-help programs.

And so, two months later, the same dysfunctional people -- many with substance abuse or health issues, or mental problems -- still come and go by day and leave tarps, tents and piles of belongings on the sidewalk. The adjacent cemetery and vacant lot across the street still serve as restrooms.

The only big change: Their numbers have doubled, at least, over two months. …

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