Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

On Homeless Plan, Skepticism and Hope

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

On Homeless Plan, Skepticism and Hope

Article excerpt

It would be easy enough to write snarky, skeptical words about a 10-page plan that Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin presented to his commission this past week as a way to tackle homelessness.

For one thing, some of his proposals would be expensive, and the plan is vague about how to pay for them. Lots of hoped-for donations seem to be key.

Barwin also hopes Sarasota County will pay for parts of it with money theoretically to be saved by providing alternatives to expensive jail stays, which some chronically homeless people now experience frequently.

But the 10 pages are full of explanations about the various causes of homelessness, including a statewide and national failure to properly provide for the mentally ill. Such sad facts underline how big and daunting homelessness issues are.

Most of all, the plan calls for creating a shelter with up to 50 beds, and experience already has taught us one thing about that: Almost no one thinks any facility for chronically homeless people should be put anywhere near their homes or businesses.

Besides, the plan isn't flagrantly different from one that got nowhere last year, despite a brief wave of high expectations then.

So skepticism seems justified. It could be that, a year from now, most of the proposals will still be nothing more than wispy fantasy, even if the City Commission approves the concept.

That especially includes the so-called stabilization and navigation center with up to 50 beds, where people would be helped and sorted out by caseworkers, counselors and health care professionals before, it is hoped, they could move off site to more permanent housing situations. Those housing units, too, would need to be found or created.

Big ideas. The political reality is that whatever service center site is considered, some people will fight tooth and claw to get it put elsewhere for fear that their neighborhood will become even more of a hangout for unemployed loiterers and panhandlers.

So Barwin himself is not exactly guaranteeing anything will happen.

"I think realistically it is a pretty steep mountain to climb," the city manager acknowledged on Friday.

But it could happen because -- he says -- there is more awareness in the city now about how the lack of mental health facilities have contributed so much to the chronic homelessness, and because more people understand that most homeless people are not -- my words -- willful bums. …

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