Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Shelter Issue Hits a Bump

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Shelter Issue Hits a Bump

Article excerpt

SARASOTA

CITY: Tense meeting casts divisions over homeless strategy into sharp relief

The search for a suitable location for a homeless shelter was nearly held up Tuesday by a divided City Commission.

For months, the commissioners have been split between those who support the recommendations of homelessness expert Robert Marbut and those who want to put the brakes on his plans. Ever since Marbut told city and county officials that they needed a large shelter for adults struggling to get off the street, some commissioners have balked at locating it in the city.

That fault line flared up again Tuesday, when a routine funding item for Marbut's contract and continued homelessness studies was called out for a debate. The commissioners were expected to approve more than $76,000 to extend Marbut's contract through November and pay for environmental and public safety studies of the two remaining shelter locations being considered: 1330 North Osprey and 1800 North East Ave.

Instead, Commissioner Susan Chapman and Vice Mayor Willie Shaw voted against funding Marbut's efforts, urging the commission to reconsider putting a shelter in the city.

Shaw has repeatedly said he doesn't want the shelter in his district, while Chapman has pushed for a location outside city limits and has at times questioned the wisdom of such shelters wherever they are.

"Initially we picked Mr. Marbut because he was supposed to be an expert on best practices," Chapman said. But she has lost confidence in Marbut's methods and data, she said, citing articles that told different stories of homelessness efforts elsewhere.

Chapman suggested the commission deny funding to Marbut's studies and look in a different direction.

"No one at this table is talking about abandoning our homelessness efforts," she said. But she has heard from many residents who have "serious concerns" about locating a shelter in the city, and people who fear the transients they see congregating downtown.

Shaw again questioned the fairness of using city money to locate a shelter within its limits, where, he said, it would further burden his district.

"I find it a slap in the face, adding insult to injury to this city's residents," he said. …

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