Sunday, February 06, 2011

Launch of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Sarasota County:

I arrived at the Church of the Redeemer on Saturday morning around 8 a.m., only to find that a street art show covered Palm Avenue and had wiped out most of our parking. People were already arriving, and by 8:30 it was clear that we were going to need more chairs. Ultimately, several hundred people participated throughout the morning. We had great representation from law enforcement, there were city and county commissioners, service providers, agency heads, representatives from the business community and plenty of concerned citizens. And, perhaps most important, there was a large number of people who are or had been homeless.

After greetings from Executive Director Richard Martin, Father Wallace from the Church, and Carolyn Mason, I outlined the agenda for the day. We began with a report from Cheri Coryea, director of neighbourhood services in Manatee County, who described their process and success with a ten year plan to end homelessness. Then we broke into workgroups focusing on housing, prevention, economic development, safety and outreach, and health and human services. The work groups spent ninety minutes planning a way forward, deciding on goals, and giving homework assignments.

I had anticipated a large gathering and also suspected there would be folks who were not yet comfortable going into work groups, but wanted to add to the conversation. Therefore I led this group of fifty or so people by passing the microphone around and listening to those who wanted to be heard. There was great input from members of Florida Veterans for Common Sense, as well as from volunteers for the Resurrection House, Manasota Adventist Community Services, and those who volunteer at 911 Central Avenue in Sarasota.

Many of the people who are homeless had remained in my group. As the morning went on, they began to feel comfortable discussing the challenges of their daily lives. We heard both praise and criticism of local agencies, law enforcement, and municipal governments. Some had turned their life around, others were still struggling with substance abuse, mental illness or unemployment. I learned of the barriers that people must overcome to get medication, enroll their children in school, or simply to find a place to sleep. The stories told were powerful and impressed upon me the urgency of our project.

We concluded the morning by hearing brief reports from each of the work groups. Now we are attempting to synthesize the information we learned and report back to everyone who participated. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday, March 11, at 2:00 p.m. at the Church of the Redeemer. If you want to come work with us, please do, whether you were able to make it to yesterday’s meeting or not. I am very grateful to everyone in Sarasota for your support. Together we can end homelessness if only we have the will to try.

Great work, Adam! Best hopes for continued dialog and on-the-ground progress for those without homes.
Thank you Adam--your wisdom and experience will add greatly to this group
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