Saturday, December 30, 2006

New homeless tent city emerges in St. Petersburg:

For weeks, the cluster of donated tents under the Interstate 375 overpass at 5th Avenue N and 15 Street has provided a sense of community for those who, by definition, don’t belong.

Like a majority of their fellow Floridians, most of the 30 or so homeless people gathered here hail from somewhere else, like New Jersey, Vermont or Missouri.

They came to St. Petersburg to join family or friends or because here is where the car broke down. Many struggle with substance abuse or mental illness; they are paradoxically hardened and fragile.

They’ve never had much, but ever since several church groups handed out tents earlier this month, the homeless of St. Petersburg have had each other.

“It’s like a big family out here,” said Richard “Bigginz” Carlson, 23, who spends his days in an overstuffed chair someone dragged onto the sidewalk for him.

Yet for city officials, the sudden cluster of tents adds visibility and legal complexity to a problem that has swelled in recent years. That’s not expected to change even after Friday, when the tenters moved away from the overpass to a nearby lot owned by the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The result of the makeshift metropolis is a new effort by the city to find a vacant building to use as an emergency shelter and a partner to help run it.

“This will be a first for us,” said St. Petersburg City Councilman Jamie Bennett, who said he and other local government and volunteer groups have made this a priority.

Bennett said the camp’s location - near the soup kitchen and a public mental health clinic - is better than other places in the city where homeless have congregated in the past. There are meals and showers. Possessions can be kept in order within tents. In one case, a homeless man organized his tent according to the principles of feng shui.

But despite the good will of some of the tenters, who dance to drums and flutes and offer each other comfort, there’s no mistaking this homeless camp for a feel-good hippie commune.

The tents have put the area - across the street from the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and St. Anthony’s Hospital - on the map for drug dealers who drive or pedal by to exploit the addicts. And it has put the city’s police on guard, as they try and guess what’s going on behind the opaque nylon and struggle to balance safety with personal property rights. At least one assault has been reported.

“We’ve never really dealt with a tent situation before,” admitted Lt. Sharon Carron of the city’s downtown patrol unit.
But the tent situation is here, and it’s putting St. Petersburg in the same league as other cities like Portland, Seattle and Ventura, Calif. that have permanent or seasonal tent cities for the homeless.

The cities have names like Dignity Village, River Haven and Sanctuary City. (“Whistle City” has been suggested for the St. Petersburg camp, in honor of the pan flute its residents enjoy playing).

And, along with the numbers of homeless themselves, the camps are on the rise - not just because they give shelter but because they get attention, said Michael Stoops, acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“It has made homelessness more visible and it’s got more people talking about it,” Stoops said.

Another reason for the increase in camps is their popularity with the homeless. They offer safety in numbers and a chance to self-govern, Stoops said.

“There’s a sense of community. Homeless folks are so tired of having social workers tell them what to do or religious people preaching at them,” Stoops said. He said some homeless “just want to sleep and eat and do their day labor or panhandle and we can’t really force them to do what we want them to do.”

Indeed, there has been some tension among some of St. Petersburg’s homeless and between them and the advocates who are trying to help them. Some homeless mutter the word “snitch” when referring to those who have challenged the methods Rev. Bruce Wright of Refuge Ministries or even the St. Vincent de Paul Society itself.

Wright helped secure the lot for the camp to move. He says it’s just a temporary solution until more shelter beds can be secured. And despite the concerns of some homeless, Wright says the new camp will be fair.

“It will be democratically run,” he promised.

Brad Bradford isn’t convinced. He’s a former accountant who came to the streets courtesy of a daily crack habit, but who has since cleaned up. He says he stays on the streets to help out those who need him, and was even elected an “elder” by some 30 homeless who signed a petition.

Bradford says too often the homeless aren’t given a seat at the table when their future is being discussed - by the city nor by nonprofit and faith-based advocates.

“They’re not communicating back to the people,” Bradford, 55, said of the city officials and advocates. Furthermore, officials don’t like it when the homeless organize themselves, Bradford said.

“Every time we get leadership, they get a bus ticket out of town.”

By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
Published December 29, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Half of Manatee County homeless are families:

Families account for almost half of the homeless population in Manatee County - and the number of households in trouble is on the rise, homeless advocates warn.

That includes the most vulnerable segment of the homeless population: women with very young children, said Adell Erozer, director of the Manatee Community Coalition on Homelessness.

The problem, Erozer said, is twofold:

Many parents - especially single moms with children - are afraid of stepping forward for help out of fear authorities will take away their children.

And many homeless families go unnoticed because of the federal government's ever-narrowing definition of homelessness.

In its annual homeless survey next month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will count only unsheltered people living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, on the streets or sidewalks or people staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing for homeless people who were once on the street.

Manatee County has no shelter facilities for single women without children who are not in an abusive situation, and only very limited family shelter capacity at the Salvation Army.

"That means HUD will miss the families doubling up in motel rooms, or the homeless people in jail or in mental health facilities," said Erozer.

The count determines how much federal funding Manatee homeless agencies will receive.

And funding is all the more crucial, advocates warn, because the caseload is exploding. The data support their fear: The Salvation Army of Bradenton has seen a 30 percent increase over the last year in the number of people seeking help.

Most of those new clients are families - many headed by single women, new to the streets, said Ellen Potrikus, who screens applicants for emergency assistance.

From Jan. 1 though Nov. 30, 8,904 people sought help from the Salvation Army, compared to 6,849 for the same period the year before.

"These are families whose household incomes have not kept pace with living expenses," Potrikus said. "All it takes is a big expense or accident for them to fall behind."

Most of the families are about to be evicted, Potrikus said. Some face late charges and attorney fees that have put them thousands of dollars behind in housing costs.

A few years ago, most people seeking rental or utility assistance were paying an average of $500-per-month rent, according to Salvation Army records.

Today, the average rent of those seeking help in Manatee County is $800.

Potrikus lays the blame on a lack of affordable housing and rising rents. Some at-risk families are paying rents as high as $1,300 a month.

The Salvation Army helps at-risk and homeless families with rent, utility and mortgage assistance through a $100,000 Emergency Shelter Grant from the state, plus donations from supporters.

But with rising rents and utilities, the funds cover fewer people in need.

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, Potrikus and her staff helped 159 people with rental assistance. A year ago, 168 people received aid in the same period. In 2005, 206 people received help with utility bills; as of Nov. 30, only 168 have received utility aid.

"Higher bills and rents limit the number of people we can help," Potrikus said.

Although HUD does not count homeless children, local advocates make the attempt.

They try tracking through the Homeless Management Information System, a computerized record that HUD requires from local agencies receiving funds. The local agencies that filed in 2005 served more than 9,000 people - and 23 percent, or 2,070, were children.

And that count, Erozer warned, is a fraction of the real number. Homeless parents try to stay invisible for fear the state will take away their children, homeless advocates say.

Teen moms, who have been left on their own by the fathers of their children or their own parents, hide because they have no place to go.

The League of Women Voters and Anne Melton Family Resource Center are trying to remedy that situation by establishing a Second Chance Home for teen parents.

Deb Bailey, director of Project Heart, helps homeless students within the Manatee County School District.

Already this school year, Bailey's homeless student count has topped 1,200.

Erozer puts the actual figure much higher.

"We know from Project Heart figures that there were 2,860 students identified as homeless during the 2005-2006 school year," Erozer said. "But when you realize that these numbers are for just 10 months out of the year and don't include children too young to be in the school system, we could easily have more than 3,000 children a year who are homeless."

That number represents the population of nearly four elementary schools in Manatee County.

written by DONNA WRIGHT Bradenton Herald Staff Writer

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sally: Still alone, still feeling lost

"Where is Sally now? Where is that person who felt so desperately alone last holiday season that she wrote to a newspaper? What has become of the 'lost soul' who was so determined to create an existence of self-worth that she shared the secrets of her inner demons?"

Thus begins a letter received this week from none other than Sally herself, the recovering sufferer of schizophrenia and formerly homeless person who wrote poignantly last year of the plight of the lonely and destitute, those who feel only "aloneness and pain" during the holiday season. Sally's heart-rending letter and the Bradenton Herald's appeal for her and the thousands of mentally ill like her brought cards, presents and $875 in contributions, some earmarked for her and some for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Manatee Chapter.

One year later, Sally reports, "I am still alone. I still feel lost in a world that no matter what I do, I just can't seem to find a place to belong, a place that accepts me, an individual, a person with many talents. A place that will place 'faith' into the potential of a person who appears like a discard, but is really a gift of gold, waiting to be unwrapped . . ."

The past year has not been a great one for Sally. It was a year of "overwhelming medical and health problems, an endless search for outside help during many days and weeks of physical disability, (while) unable to perform many basic tasks," Sally wrote.

But in those bad times the memories of last Christmas sustained her, Sally wrote, "the memories that, if only for a few temporary days, I was validated, I and my life had meaning, that people are still kind and generous and that I generated a response that in the chain of life also helped others. The few minutes it took for people to reach out to me had more power than my 'inner demons' that feel like life is not always worth living."

Surely there again is a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas in Sally's soul-baring update. Once again she speaks for legions in writing of the rejection she feels when seeking help, especially in church settings, and of trying to "not personalize how awkward it is when I show up at a pot luck asking for the leftovers."

How many like Sally have we walked past with averted eyes? How many needy strangers have we turned away with a dismissive shake of the head? How many kind deeds will we perform this holiday season that will be sufficient to "nourish the spirit and feed the soul" of a stranger, as last year's response did for Sally, throughout the whole of next year?

Sally was delighted to learn that the editorial about her plight won a prestigious journalism award for its author from the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association this fall. Though she remained anonymous, which was her wish, "my reward was the kindness of strangers, something that nourished my spirit and fed my soul." The gift of love far outlasts a bottle of expensive perfume, new tie or scarf that people spend so much money buying but which are quickly forgotten, she said.

"Although I still feel alone, and I still have yet to overcome many obstacles, deep in my heart I still believe that maybe tomorrow . . ."

The letter ends there. Maybe tomorrow, other kind strangers will again reach out, to make one sad and lonely person feel loved.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Candlelight vigil honors homeless who have died
by April Hunt Sentinel Staff Writer

December 22, 2006

Leslie Stephens only discovered she had Stage 4 breast cancer when she moved into the Women's Residential Counseling Center in Orlando with her three children.

She immediately began treatment when she entered the shelter in November 2005. It wasn't enough.

Stephens was 33 when she died Sept. 30, one of 14 people from the three-county metro region who died this year, in part because of being on the streets and without proper care.

"If she had a stable home setting, she could have gotten access to medical care sooner, and that might have made the difference," said Cathy Jackson, who heads the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida. "It could have been different."

Jackson led more than 50 people Thursday evening in a candlelight vigil at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Orlando.

Homeless Persons' Memorial Day -- part of a nationwide event on the longest night of the year -- is designed to draw attention to the needs of the homeless and to give them a public memorial after often-invisible lives.

Two of those being honored, August Felix and Ronald Klaas, were murder victims.

Five teens were arrested and accused of kicking and beating Felix "for sport," according to Orlando police records. He was 54 when he died May 1.

Klaas, whom friends called Gumby because of his missing teeth, was shot before dawn on a May morning as he headed to the downtown bus station to go to work. He was 51.

Some of the others died in relative obscurity.

"A lot of people don't believe that other people live in the woods," said Nancy Martinez, whose job as outreach specialist with Health Care Center for the Homeless is to traipse into the encampments and encourage the homeless to get medical care.

She knows many of the people in the woods and on the street by name.

She met Severo Vazquez early in her four-year stint as part of the center's Hope Team. Vazquez was a military veteran who lived alone in a camp on W.D. Judge Boulevard. Martinez found him there one Monday morning, dead from a heart attack during the weekend.

Joe Mazur lived just down the road from Vazquez, in a camp of about 20 other homeless people near Princeton Street and John Young Parkway. Martinez said Mazur was doing well in getting healthy when he fell into a depression and wouldn't stop drinking.

"He drank himself to death," Martinez said. "We found him alive but severely dehydrated. He died at the hospital."

Advocates have squared off with Orlando officials this year over issues such as where charities can feed the homeless and the city's efforts to clear encampments near the Sylvia Lane feeding site.

Also on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union submitted to the city clerk declarations from many of the homeless, listing what they lost in the evictions. Among items taken were clothes and medicines, as well as family photos, work tools and documents, said Jacqueline Dowd, the attorney who compiled the affidavits.

"A lot of those people are still there," Dowd said, of the Sylvia Lane area. "For most of them, there is no place else to go."

Jackson emphasized that the region has only about 3,000 beds available for an estimated 8,000 homeless people. Some homeless refuse to go to certain shelters, but those who do often find the facilities full, she said.

Advocates and political leaders who attended Thursday's rally pledged to work together on a solution. Ideas being discussed are more transitional beds for people ready to leave shelters but not life on their own, and more affordable housing for those able to work but not pay market rate.

Stephens would have approved of anything that made those options available.

Even while receiving treatment for cancer, she completed coursework that let her take the test to become a licensed practical nurse, said Jose Irizarry, housing director at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. The coalition operates the shelter where Stephens lived with her daughters, ages 14 and 6, and 4-year-old son.

Stephens took the exam. But by the time the results arrived in an envelope, she was so ill that she didn't want to face the possibility she didn't pass.

"She didn't want anything that might depress her," Irizarry said. "Even when she was in a nursing home, she begged me not to exit her from our program. Of course I didn't. That's how important it is to have a place of your own."

April Hunt can be reached at 407-420-6269 or

Dozens honor homeless with vigil

The Times-Union

They vanish from society, leaving behind a few scattered belongings and the friends they'd met trying to get their lives together.

They have heart attacks. They get into accidents at day labor sites. For one man, a stabbing took him.

Rain drizzled at Hemming Plaza as nearly 30 people gathered Thursday to light candles, pray and listen to the stories. Wanda Lanier, executive director for Jacksonville's Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition, said deaths among the city's homeless total around a half-dozen each year. Events like the vigil downtown serve as a eulogy for those who couldn't afford funerals.

"It's to recognize that homeless people are part of this community, and when they die they're not just some animal you pick up off the street and cremate," said event organizer Stan Grenn, a Catholic deacon with New Hope Ministry.

The venue for Jacksonville's memorial was a section of downtown where police have increased efforts to deal with aggressive panhandling and trespassing. Advocates for the homeless have been critical of the plan, arguing it lumps homeless people and criminals into one category, creating an unwelcoming environment for people in need near the region's greatest concentration of services.

Police say they're working to make downtown safer.

Among the 30 people who attended the service, a few live on the streets.

Ron Nester, a contractor who just Wednesday lost his job and place to live, broke into tears as he listened to the story of a friend who'd fallen to his death at a work site this year.

"I had the honor and the privilege to work with him on quite a few jobs. He was real easy to get along with and he had a real excellent personality," Nester said.

Similar events were scheduled in Nassau and St. Johns counties among hundreds throughout the nation. Since 1990, the National Coalition for the Homeless has sponsored the memorials on the first night of winter.

A crowd of about 50 people gathered Thursday night outside First United Methodist Church in St. Augustine for a candlelight vigil. They sang Silent Night and then shared a holiday meal.

Organizers of the event said there were at least 11 homeless people known to have died in St. Johns County this year.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Home Sweet Home of Their Own

BRADENTON - Tommy Henselder is thrilled with his new condo at Mirror Lake.

It literally gave him a new lease on an independent life.

He's in it thanks to Community Affordable Supportive Living, a nonprofit coalition that provides housing for people with developmental disabilities. CASL owns 31 homes and condos that house about 70 disabled residents in Sarasota, Manatee, Lee and Alachua counties.

John Johnson, a life coach from Manasota ARC - a local agency that assists developmentally disabled children and adults - helps clients like Henselder adjust to their new homes.

"It's my job to work myself out of a job by helping him be independent," Johnson said. "Tommy has great concentration. Once he locks onto something, he's got it."

The 60-year-old Henselder was so excited a visitor was coming to see his new digs that he eagerly waited in the parking lot, ready to begin the tour.

"I've got a bus stop right out front and come and look at this," Henselder said as he threw open his front door.

"This is the living room," he said proudly. "And this is the couch and here's the TV . . .

"And look at this," he said, scurrying through the dining room into his bedroom. "This is my brand new TV - a Magnavox - 24 inches."

He traced his finger across the screen.

"Have you ever seen one like this before?" Henselder asked, pointing at the built-in DVD and video tape player.

"All I do is punch this button here, and the little door pops open for the movie and then . . ."

He spun around and plopped down on his bed with the big, green pillows.

"Here comes the movie."

The music had no more than started when Henselder jumped up and ran to his aquarium. He reached in and shifted a big rock.

"And guess who this is . . . Tommy, my turtle."

Independent living

And possibly the best part about the new apartment: The affordable $250 rent Henselder's paying from his disability income. When his roommate moved out of apartment he was in earlier this year, Henselder was stuck with a $700 rent he couldn't afford.

That's where CASL comes in.

The coalition was founded about 10 years ago by Charles E. Richards, a former Sarasota County commissioner who wanted to help those with disabilities to live independently in clean homes in safe neighborhoods.

Using a combination of state housing funds, community foundation grants and private contributions, the group buys properties, then serves as the real estate owner while the tenants receive services from in-home support service groups like Manasota ARC.

Richards was impressed with Henselder when they signed the lease.

"Tommy was a real gentleman," Richards said in a phone interview. "He seemed really happy to be in his new home, which is so much better than his previous arrangement."

'She'd be proud'

Now, Henselder shares the two bedrooms, two-bath condo with a young woman who is also disabled. As clients of Manasota ARC, they receive support services daily and on weekends.

Henselder has a tight daily schedule, beginning at 8:15 a.m. when the agency's bus picks him up for vocational training. At 4 p.m. the bus brings him home where he has two hours to himself. Johnson arrives at 6 p.m. to work with Henselder until 8 p.m.

Dozens of pictures sit on top Henselder's bureau in his bedroom. One of his favorites is a big picture of his family, his sisters with their husbands and children and, in the center, his mother, who passed away in March.

He picked up the photo and gently touched his mother's face.

"She's up there now," he said, pointing to the ceiling, "in heaven."

When asked what he thought his mother would say if she could see his new home, Henselder beamed.

"She'd be real proud of me," he said.

Herald Staff Writer

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Manatee County's legislative delegation met Friday with community leaders to map out priorities for the 2007 state legislative session on Friday.

The Community Coalition on Homelessness is seeking funds for a recently approved project--the one-stop resource center for the homeless.

The one-stop center, approved by the city of Bradenton in December 2005, has a capital campaign led by former state Sen. John McKay. The coalition is seeking $1 million in state funding to outfit a building at 701 17th Ave. W. with dining services, health services and job searching services among other resources to help low-income and homeless people. The campaign expects another $2 million to come from local government and private donations.

McKay noted that most of the homeless population are children.

"It is unconscionable that we don't address those needs and help those children," McKay said.

Herald Staff Writer

Thursday, December 14, 2006

FEMA releases $5.8 million to help Florida's homeless

By Miami Herald staff

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced today that federal funds totaling $5,816,077 have been awarded to the state of Florida to help prevent homelessness and feed and shelter the hungry and homeless.

Congress made the funding available -- including $936,055 for Miami-Dade County and $660,294 for Broward -- for the National Board of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program to support social service agencies in more than 2,500 cities and counties across the country.

EFS grant funds are used to supplement food, shelter, rent, mortgage and utility assistance programs for people with nondisaster-related emergencies.

''The continued success of the EFS program affirms the willingness of the American people and the federal government to answer the call when others are in need,'' Region IV Director Major P. May said in a news release. ``This comprehensive program would not be a reality without the service provided by those working throughout our region's communities.''

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Volunteers Needed in Sarasota and Manatee for "Point in Time Survey"

Do you want to help the homeless individuals and families in our community?

Hundreds of volunteers are needed to gather census information about the homeless individuals and families in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Information gathered on people experiencing homeless will help us provide better services to meet their needs.

WHERE: Sarasota and Manatee Counties

WHEN: Monday, January 29, 2007 at noon through Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at noon

WHY: To reduce homelessness and meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness

All volunteers must attend one volunteer training session. Trainings will take place in Sarasota County and Manatee County.
Manatee County Volunteer Trainings
Thursday, January 18th, 10:00-11:00am, Manatee United Way, 1701 14 Street West, Bradenton
Monday, January 22nd, 6:00-7:00pm, Manatee Glens Hospital , 2020 26th Avenue East, Bradenton
Sarasota County Volunteer Trainings
Tuesday, January 16th, 10:00-11:00am, Sarasota United Way, 1445 2nd St., Sarasota
Thursday, January 25th, 6:00-7:00pm, Sarasota Salvation Army, 1400 10th St., Sarasota
To volunteer or for more information, contact Jackie at 941.955.8946 or

Saturday, December 09, 2006

NPR Series “Homelessness in America”
National Public Radio did an excellent series on homelessness in America in 2006. Two stories of particular interest are “Homeless alcoholics in Seattle find a home” and “Miami offers lessons on handling the homeless.”

llink to whole series
Homelessness in America

Or, search on Google: NPR Homelessness America

Students protest treatment of area homeless


SARASOTA -- More than a dozen college students slept outside the courthouse Friday night to protest the treatment of the homeless. They just didn't expect it to be so cold.

The students bundled up and tried to keep moving as the temperatures dropped into the 40s and the wind ripped through their layers of clothing. Some students had sleeping bags and others made makeshift beds out of miscellaneous clothing.

They say it made the experience of being homeless for a night even more realistic.

"I'm a doctor's kid," said Vincent Castillenti, a 20-year-old University of South Florida student. "I've never had to sleep outside on the street, but it's people that have to do this every night whether it's boiling hot or freezing cold."

More than 50 people gathered at Five Points Park on Friday afternoon and marched to the courthouse on Ringling Boulevard to protest the city's no-camping rule, which they say has led to arrests and harassment of the homeless.

A group of students got the idea for the protest while spending Friday afternoons feeding homeless people at Five Points Park.

"It makes me feel good that they are out here," said Reginald Sykes, who has been homeless for two years. "It's good that they want to make a change, and I wanted to be out here to let my voice be heard."

Sarasota was named the "meanest city in America" by the National Homeless Coalition for the no-camping ordinance. But city leaders agreed that the rule works, and it was upheld by a circuit judge as being constitutional.

"We wanted to do an act of civil disobedience to let people know this was going on in our city," said Dell MacLean, a 26-year-old New College student.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sleep-out to protest ban on camping

Students and the homeless plan to sleep outside the judicial center tonight.


SARASOTA -- A group of college students served dinners to the city's homeless population every Friday for the past two months at Selby Five Points Park, and realized something: The stories were the same.

The students say virtually all of the homeless people they fed complained about the city's no-camping rule, which they say has led to harassment, arrests and fines.

From those weekly meetings emerged an idea to make a statement against the ordinance, to stage an act of civil disobedience.

This afternoon, the college students will march with homeless people across downtown streets on their way to the courthouse. They plan to sleep outside the judicial center all night, right next to police headquarters.

"We're not interested in getting arrested, but we understand that might happen," said Marlon Kautz, a homeless rights activist who helped organize the park dinners and the march.

The protest comes at a time when city leaders are pointing to the no-lodging ordinance as a success. The twice-overturned rule has recently been upheld by a judge. It now includes a clause that they say proves their intent to help, offering first-time violators a free ride to a shelter.

City officials said they have no plans to arrest protesters.

"Our intent is to respect the people's right to peaceably assemble," said City Manager Michael McNees.

Sarasota Police Lt. Paul Sutton, who spent all day Thursday at a retreat with the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, said that simply sleeping in public is not outlawed by the no-lodging rule. He hopes to use the protest to educate the public about the rule, and how it is designed to offer homeless people help instead of jail.

"It's a great opportunity to promote the public awareness of what we're doing," Sutton said. "I don't think that's the spin they (the protesters) are looking for."

Kautz said that the city's homeless people do not feel that the rule is helping.

He and others have gotten to know many of them through the weekly meals in Five Points Park, which are hosted by the Sarasota chapter of "Food Not Bombs," a worldwide group dedicated to social change.

He said the idea for the sleep-out came from Sarasota's homeless people themselves, although students and activists will join them. The goal is to encourage city leaders to drop the ordinance and provide needed housing for the city's poorest residents.

Through fliers and word-of-mouth, many of Sarasota's homeless people have been spreading the news of today's protest.

The protest is being staged nearly a year after Sarasota was named the "Meanest City in the Nation" toward homeless people by a national advocacy group. Officials have continually rejected the title.

This week, city commissioners supported an ordinance that put closing times on city parks. In the eyes of some citizens, it was another attempt to control the city's homeless.

"This is another issue of homeless people and where they sleep," said resident Diana Hamilton. "The issue is, we need to have better facilities for these people."

City officials say the ordinance boils down to a public safety issue.

"All our neighborhood parks deserve to be safe for everyone to use," said City Commissioner Mary Anne Servian.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Major Bert Tanner Leaving Sarasota?

I am hearing that Major Bert Tanner of the Salvation Army has been reassigned. If this is true it will be a huge loss for the community. Major Tanner has done so much to help those in need. He understands the people and challenges of Sarasota and has never backed away from either. Major Tanner I salute you!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Property owner requests shutdown of homeless camp

Deputies arrest four for trespassing

PORT CHARLOTTE -- Four homeless people will now be served three meals a day and have beds to sleep in -- at least until they make bail.

At the request of a property owner, Charlotte County Sheriff's deputies made four arrests Tuesday for trespassing after warning at a homeless campsite in Port Charlotte.

At the request of Mango Development Group, which owns a 40-acre tract at 19530 Cochran Blvd., deputies issued the trespassers citations on Thanksgiving and told them to leave the wooded area near Home Depot.

On Tuesday, the deputies returned to the area on three different occasions during the day and found the same four people living there.

They charged Timothy Milton Peters, 49; Gary Dewayne Cooper, 48; David Alan Carr, 44; and Mary Joanne Johnson, 39; with trespassing after warning and took them to the Charlotte County Jail, where they all remained Wednesday on $1,000 bonds each. Carr was also charged with an outstanding warrant for violation of probation for criminal mischief.

In the report, deputies said the group had established residency on the property and "created a mess by littering a camping area."

The property is worth $7,760,649, according to the Charlotte County Property Appraiser's Web site. Representatives of Mango Development, which is based in Sarasota, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Charlotte County Sheriff's spokesman Bob Carpenter said the homeless problem is one that affects the whole county.

"If there is a complaint, we have to react to it," he said Wednesday. "We aren't the bad guys in this. We warned them once."

Carpenter said the Sheriff's Office has received several complaints about the homeless camp from other business owners in the area but unless the property owner files the complaint, there is little they can do.

Ian Ocasio, street outreach worker with the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, said the homeless population has grown rapidly since Hurricane Charley.

"I know of at least 65 people who are living in areas not meant for human habitation," he said Wednesday.

The coalition is building a 52-person shelter that is expected to be finished in July 2007.

"That will help the situation some," Ocasio said.

One of the problems, according to Ocasio, is when homeless people are told to relocate, they don't have anywhere to go or the means to move.

"One of the men who was arrested (Tuesday) is disabled," he said. "He can barely walk."

Ocasio said the previous land owners of the 40-acre tract were more tolerant of the homeless who would stay there. He said the Sheriff's Office is just doing its job, but all that's happening is that taxpayers are paying to house them.

"They are just warehousing the poorest of the poor and the mentally ill, and they are the first ones to tell you they are tired of it," he said. "Our jails are filled with nonviolent, mentally ill and poor people."

Funding is needed to help build more shelters, Ocasio said, but that in itself is a huge hurdle.

"Animal shelters get more funding than we do," he said. "We barely have enough money to put gas in our vans."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Just a thought . . .

The end of the 2006 hurricane season leaves lots of Floridians with unused supplies stored up in case of a major blow. The plywood and water can keep another year, but most people don't like to keep food, even nonperishables, around that long.

Here's a suggestion: Give that unused hurricane food to the food banks and soup kitchens that are desperately understocked as they head into the busiest season. Our Daily Bread, Meals on Wheels Plus and the Salvation Army are all low on supplies. The packaged tuna, beef, macaroni, beans and rice could help needy families avoid going hungry for a few days and could help feed the homeless who show up for a hot daily meal.

Plus, food donations to the needy would fulfill the spirit of the holiday season.

(a suggestion from the Bradenton Herald Saturday December 2, 2006)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Volunteers Needed To Survey Homeless

By Rick Rousos
The Lakeland Ledger

LAKELAND - The Homeless Coalition of Polk County is looking for a hundred or more compassionate people to volunteer for at least one day in January to count Polk's homeless people.

The pay is lousy - there is none. But, says Judy M. Loud, coordinator of the Point in Time survey of the homeless, the real reward is the satisfaction of volunteering. "It's all about helping others," she said.

The survey is important because the amount of federal and state money budgeted for outreach programs depends upon how many people are counted.

The count will take place Jan. 22 through Jan. 26. Five Polk County areas will be surveyed for one day each during that week.

Last year, 150 people volunteered to help with the survey. So far, the Homeless Coalition of Polk County has recruited 40 people.

The coalition recently held training for new volunteers. With an office near the three downtown homeless shelters, the volunteers didn't have to look hard for homeless people, many of whom have arrived here in the past few days because of cold weather.

The next volunteer training is Dec. 12. Volunteers learn how to approach and communicate with the homeless and fill out a form for each person they interview. Some homeless people are difficult to strike up a conversation with, and the Homeless Coalition tells its volunteers that people living in shelters or in homeless camps want what everyone wants - to be treated with dignity and respect.

In the 2005 Point in Time survey, volunteers submitted forms for 749 people. In January 2006, they counted 801.

Counting the homeless is not an exact science, said Mark Spiker, the executive director of the Homeless Coalition of Polk County.

Some of the data on the homeless collected the past few years doesn't make sense. In Sarasota County, the count went from 431 in 2005 to 7,253 this year. In Hardee County, the 2005 count of 24 people jumped to 725 this year.

Spiker said the Homeless Coalition does the best it can to count accurately.

"Some people are counted twice,'' he said. "And a lot of others don't want to be counted."

Friday, December 01, 2006


The homeless community fights the anti-lodging ordinance.

By Joel Rozen

Published 11.29.2006

Since a circuit court judge declared an anti-lodging ordinance constitutional in both Sarasota and Manatee counties earlier this month, the homeless have been left to wander the night streets, unable to rest in any one location.

They're tired. And fed up.

The homeless and their advocates say this is just the latest affront by local government, and they are beginning to mobilize, holding regular planning sessions and organizing protests. But they've got their work cut out for them.

"Since 2002, we've been tracking criminalization of the homeless across the country," says an audibly irritated Michael Stoops, executive director of the D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless. "And clearly, tourist cities are the worst." Last January, Stoops' group declared Sarasota the nation's "meanest city," and the acts against those with no place to sleep haven't stopped.

"We were struck by Sarasota's persistence," Stoops says, alluding to the area's latest anti-homeless measures: a soup kitchen that was shut down last month, a mess of zoning restrictions limiting the Salvation Army's expansion options. And now the anti-lodging ordinance. When it was upheld after two previous rounds of protest, the decision was interpreted by many as a final, decimating blow to the estimated 3,000-plus who, according to advocates, have already requested emergency shelter in Sarasota and Manatee counties this year.

The ordinance bans loitering citywide and enables police officers to arrest those caught sleeping outside. Many on both sides of the issue expect a number of homeless people to leave as a result.

"I really think this speaks to a lack of compassion for the less fortunate in this city," says Cat Christensen, a volunteer counselor at local homeless resource center Resurrection House. "Putting someone in jail costs a certain amount of money, and I can't think that's the only answer."

Her office, shared by a few of the other volunteer counselors, is modest in size, almost swallowed by the rest of the massive building. Dwarfing most of the neighboring structures on Kumquat Court, the nearly 20-year-old Resurrection House logs almost 33,000 visits a year. Its directors claim they can't afford to put up homeless clients for the night -- the Salvation Army handles that responsibility -- but since the ordinance passed, Resurrection has been seeing far more tired faces.

A frail, frustrated-looking man dressed in a tattered sport coat and slacks pushes his walker right up to Christensen's doorway. Albert Montes de Oca, 54, wants to check on the status of his Greyhound bus out of the city.

"This is no place for me, man," he says. De Oca explains that he fractured his hip last month and doesn't know why the Sarasota Hospital won't take him back in.

"It's been three months of hell ever since I arrived. Money disappears like boiling water." His eyes widen as he signals steam in the air with his hands. "Now all I want is out."

That may be the ordinance's goal -- to push homeless people away. But several lawyers and activists contacted by CL think the counties have a responsibility to help those in need. Local media have been awash with news of Fort Myers-based attorney Chris Cosden's appeals at the district courts against the ordinance -- the latest reports quote a disgruntled Cosden vowing to take this month's verdict to the Second District Court of Appeals -- but there are grassroots fighters as well.

Some of them know the issues at stake firsthand. "They force you to crawl under crevices at night," Resurrection House regular Brian Smith, 35, says of patrolling police officers. "But they always seem to find you. And it's so cold out, you'll be shaking when they slap those cuffs on."

Smith is eager to divulge some of his plans for resistance. "I'm not running away from this," the Cleveland native says. For the past month, he and numerous other homeless citizens have convened at Five Points Park next to Selby Library for what he calls "protest planning meetings" and hot meals.

The events are sponsored by local chapters of activist collective Food Not Bombs, and led by students from Ringling and New College.

"It's a sight, we've got hundreds of homeless people there, all ready to storm the city courthouse," Smith says of the meetings. While he admits the Dec. 8 protest is still in the planning phase, he and other members of the group are determined to spread word of the ordinance's injustice.

Currently serving as intermediaries between the local homeless and the National Homelessness Coalition, Jackie Wang and Reva Castillenti, 18 and 19 respectively, are the Food Not Bombs organizers from the two colleges. Both from St. Petersburg, they serve as voices for the homeless, but are adamantly not the only voices.

"We didn't want our role [at the meetings] to be like, 'This is for you,'" says Wang, sitting in the Ringling School's cafeteria. "We just want the homeless to be aware of their fundamental rights."

Castillenti agrees. "We want to put the homelessness situation in a larger context," she says. "We also believe the city should take more responsibility for its homelessness problem -- they should abolish [the ordinance] until they can provide more shelters." With the aid of several other organizers, the two now have a website ( advertising their agenda and encouraging other concerned citizens to help them rally on Dec. 8.

"Right now, we're looking into getting it all OK'd by local officials by securing a permit," says Wang. "We want this to be as civil as possible; we mean no harm."

Not all homeless advocates agree that abolishing the ordinance would be the right way to go, however. "This whole anti-lodging thing has gotten a lot of press recently," concedes Adrienne Lazeroff, executive director of Sarasota's Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, "but I'm not sure getting rid of it will prevent the situation, and that's what we'd like to do."

Lazeroff sits in the United Way building that has housed the Partnership since its inception last year. "Really, what we should be doing is getting to the root of the problem, with meetings to brainstorm ways of finding jobs for these people and financing aid organizations."

But Christensen, having assisted at Resurrection House for just over a year now -- reconnecting families, digging up birth certificates for job hunters, even helping out patrons in the free laundry room -- is already seeing the anti-lodging law's effect.

"The ramifications of this type of ordinance are obvious," she says, pulling her chair up to a desk lined with fliers and notepads. "People now have to walk all night long, there's no place to hide; I've come in here in the morning and found people sleeping while in line for breakfast."

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