Sunday, February 25, 2007

Partnership: Dignified homeless shelters needed:

One out of 100 Americans will experience homelessness this year, according to some estimates.

To gauge the extent of the problem in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness held a census of all the homeless in the area.

On Jan. 29 at noon, volunteers for the agency assembled to search the two counties for people who would be homeless for the next 24 hours. The volunteers handed out donated toiletries and asked the people to participate in a survey that asked where they stay, why they're homeless and what services they need.

"We found nine camps," said Connie Insley, a volunteer.

A camp is a group of homeless people, usually in a wooded area, like a small town.

"There is a hierarchy within the camp," said Nancy Smith, a volunteer. "It is just like anyone's house."

Camps are eventually broken up by the police, which makes the members leery of anyone, said volunteer Jim McEntee.

Avery Burke, another volunteer for the organization, also works for one of the nonprofit organizations that participates. He often goes out looking for homeless offering assistance.

He said that homelessness is not always a choice. Sometimes an addiction or mental illness makes it hard for someone to get his life in order. Sometimes a financial problem compounds and spirals out of control.

"It (homelessness) could be any one of us at any day," he said. "Miss one car payment or get hurt and lose your job, you could wind up homeless."


The Suncoast Partnership is a nonprofit organization that works with other nonprofit organizations in the two counties to help eliminate homelessness. More than 45 agencies participate.

Richard Martin is the chair of the Suncoast Partnership. Martin said the partnership is focusing on finding solutions to the problems of homelessness, and surveys like this one will help.

However, Martin also said there is no one specific solution for all the homeless because each situation is different.

"Some people can't just decide not to be homeless anymore," Burke said.

Martin said that the lack of affordable housing in the area is a large contributor to homelessness.

Martin and directors from the allied agencies would like there to be more shelters for the homeless in the area.

"A roof gives dignity. Dignified shelters are the first step," Martin said.

Currently, the Salvation Army in Sarasota and Bradenton provide the only shelters in the area.

Martin and other directors said government help is not enough to help fight homelessness.

"It takes a village," Martin said.

The results of the survey are expected in late March 2007.


Sun Herald Staff Writer

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