Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

New Shelter Debate

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

New Shelter Debate

Article excerpt

Homeless facility's statistics spur questions on how effective one would be here


As the county continues to investigate two potential sites for a homeless shelter, Sarasota officials have been sharing data they said raises questions about whether the facility will effectively get people off the streets.

They are looking at statistical summaries from Pinellas Safe Harbor -- one of the shelters Sarasota is using as a model.

"I was appalled," Eileen Normile said of the summaries. She requested the information as a member of the city's Independent Police Advisory Panel. "They were startling and they need further explanation."

Cecilia Barreda, a spokeswoman with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which runs the shelter, said spreading the reports without context has created confusion. For example, one of the numbers that shocked Normile was that of the 5,029 clients who left the shelter last year, only two people completed the program.

"The bottom line is there is no program," Barreda said. "It doesn't really mean anything."

Safe Harbor's 2013 summary also says that of the 5,110 people they served last year, the bulk of those who left -- 4,597 people -- fell into an "Other -- mostly missed curfew" category.

"In essence some of those numbers could potentially be part of the success rate," Barreda said, because those people may have found a home or moved in with family and just not reported that to Safe Harbor.

The report is a "technocrat data set" and not an accurate measurement of whether the shelter is successful, said Sarasota's homelessness consultant Robert Marbut, who helped create the Pinellas County shelter.

There have been serious "misunderstandings and misrepresentations" about the numbers, Marbut said.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office uses that data to determine details like how much toilet paper and soap they need, Marbut said.

The summaries did not focus on the information that he said is the most important to track success, including the reduction in homeless on the streets, in jail and in emergency rooms.

Those numbers have reportedly gone down in Pinellas County. Since the shelter opened, the counts of homeless on the streets of Clearwater and St. Petersburg decreased by 81 percent and 93 percent, respectively, Marbut wrote in a response to the data.

He cited the police and the sheriff's office as sources.

"I would like his raw data," City Commissioner Susan Chapman said at a meeting Monday. "I would like the basis for his opinion."

Proposals under scrutiny

Although some residents and two city commissioners, Willie Shaw and Chapman, continue to question whether the community's investment will be effective, the effort to create a shelter -- and broader system of care -- is nonetheless moving forward.

An update that will be presented to the county commission today outlines the county and Gulf Coast Community Foundation's efforts to create two family shelters. …

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